Like a caterpillar becoming a beautiful butterfly, a contaminated property along the Delaware River in Camden has been transformed into a bustling urban park where people and nature can once again thrive.

This is the first spring for Cramer Hill Waterfront Park, a 62-acre urban oasis completed last November after five years and $48 million in work. As the weather warms up, the new park is set to become one of Camden’s best places to enjoy nature and recreation.

It’s part of a revival of Camden that addresses past inequities and gives residents a new sense of belonging, pride and hope. Pollution has been eliminated and, for the first time in the memory of many Cramer Hill residents, the public has safe access to the Delaware River.

A view of the Philadelphia skyline from the new Cramer Hill Waterfront Park on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Camden, NJ

Located at the confluence of the Cooper River and the Delaware River Back Channel, the new park offers stunning views of the Philadelphia skyline, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and, often, bald eagles soaring above the river. Facilities include a fishing spot, hiking and biking trails, kayak launch, picnic area, large playground, sensory garden and wildlife viewing areas. nature.

Named after the neighborhood in which it is located, Cramer Hill Waterfront Park was once the Harrison Avenue Landfill, an 82-acre landfill that operated from approximately 1952 to 1971. The landfill was never properly closed or capped after the closure, and the illegal dumping of the toxic chemicals further contaminated the land and the river.

Efforts to clean up the site began in the early 2000s. A major first step came in 2012, when 20 acres of landfill were cleared to allow construction of the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center. The 125,000 square foot community facility, which includes a swimming pool, water park, fitness center and gym, was funded by government grants and a gift from the estate of Joan Kroc, widow of the McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.

Building on this success, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection began in 2016 to create the Cramer Hill Waterfront Park on the remaining landfill property, using natural resource damage funds paid by polluters to compensate for past environmental damage.

Over a five-year period, the state moved 375,000 cubic yards of soil and stabilized over 3,000 feet of shoreline. He planted 365,000 trees, installed bald eagle perches and islands for turtle basking, expanded existing freshwater wetlands, and preserved forested areas as wildlife habitat.

A view of the Philadelphia skyline from the new Cramer Hill Waterfront Park on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Camden, NJ

Cramer Hill Waterfront Park was officially opened in late November at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Governor Phil Murphy and a host of government officials and community members.

“The poor choices and inequities of the past that threatened this neighborhood are finally lifted,” Murphy said. “Justice comes in all its forms, and today it’s about environmental justice for the families of Cramer Hill.”

Camden native Olivia Glenn, who serves as the NJDEP’s deputy commissioner for environmental justice and equity, said the environmental justice promise “is rooted in the belief that all residents of New Jersey have a right to live. , to work, to learn, to venerate and to recreate”. in a clean and healthy environment. This includes turning liabilities into assets and landfills into parks.

A view of the Delaware River from the new waterfront park Cramer Hill Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in Camden, NJ

The park provides access to both nature and water. A 13-mile “water trail” is being developed to connect Camden Parks and access points along the Cooper River and Delaware Back Channel. Connected parks will include Cooper River Park, Farnham Park, Gateway Park and Pyne Poynt Park.

Another park along the water trail will be Petty’s Island, a former marine terminal and oil storage site owned by CITGO Petroleum Corp. Located across the back channel from Cramer Hill Waterfront Park, the 500-acre island is now protected by a conservation easement owned by the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust and is being cleaned up and restored to become a public nature reserve.

The Cooper and Delaware rivers are already used extensively for youth and community programs, such as those offered by local group Urban Promise.

Congratulations to the State of New Jersey, City of Camden, County of Camden and dozens of local partners for a job well done. Cramer Hill Waterfront Park is already described as the crown jewel of Camden’s parks – and that’s no exaggeration.

This spring, the new park offers great opportunities for the public to get outside, enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, and connect with nature and water. Bring your fishing rod, kayak or binoculars. Stroll along the trails, watch for hunting eagles and turtles basking along the pond, notice native butterflies and bees, and marvel at this remarkable reclamation achievement.

More resources

To watch an NJDEP video of the creation of Cramer Hill Waterfront Park, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=je_R_AxTjq0&ab_channel=DiscoverDEP-NewJerseyDepartmentofEnvironmentalProtection.

For more on the preservation of land and natural resources of New Jersey, including parks Camden, visit the website of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation at www.njconservation.org or contact me at [email protected]

Jay Watson is executive co-director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.