Berkeley Island County Park open for Memorial Day weekend

via – APP.com

BERKELEY – Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. was so giddy during Wednesday’s opening of the newly rebuilt Berkeley Island County Park, that the 71-year-old cancer survivor set out to scale one of the playground equipment pieces in the children’s area.

“Put your feet on there,” instructed a nervous Freeholder Gerry P. Little, who felt he had no choice but to follow his colleague and friend up a rope climb.

“Yeah?” Bartlett shot back.

“Yeah,” Little replied.

“Oh, this is fun,” Bartlett declared. Watch the video above to see Bartlett reclaim his youth on some of the park’s new attractions.

At long last, the 25-acre park on a peninsula that juts out into Barnegat Bay in the Glen Cove neighborhood is back – well, almost. There’s still some landscaping and a few other finishing touches to add to a project that has cost $8 million to date.

The park will open to the public at about 3:30 p.m. on Friday and then be open all Memorial Day weekend. After the holiday, the park will be subject to intermittent closings until the actual start of summer so county contractors can complete the last of the work, according to county officials.

As with so many who have struggled to rebuild since the catastrophe of superstorm Sandy almost six years ago, the reconstruction of this popular park at the end of Brennan Concourse took far longer than was ever expected.

The original park was not just destroyed in the Oct. 29, 2012 disaster – the land that it sat on was mostly obliterated in the storm surge.

Bartlett explained there were a number of state environmental permits that needed to be obtained, which started with the county government’s task of having to reclaim the land that we lost in the storm.

It was the county’s land, but after it washed away, legally it wasn’t anymore, Bartlett said.

Berkeley Mayor Carmen F. Amato spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, which also happened to be his 50th birthday.

“When they were talking about what day they were going to do the grand opening on Berkeley Island Park, I said ‘if you really want to make me happy, Freeholder; my birthday happens to be May 23rd and I turn 50-years-old on May 23rd,’” Amato quipped. “So Freeholder, ‘if you want to give me a birthday present, the greatest birthday present you could give me is opening Berkeley Island Park on May 23rd.’”

The county first constructed the park here in 1981. At the time, Berkeley Island was the first park Bartlett developed as freeholder, having taken office a year earlier.

As part of the county’s agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection to rebuild the park, the peninsula’s shoreline has been restored to the way it appeared in 1977 — before the erosion of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s caused its beaches to significantly recede.

In addition to its natural beauty and like amenities, the freeholder board had the county’s first splash park built that includes ornate shower-like nozzles that spray water onto a pad that children can cool or play on. If it proves successful, Bartlett said he plans to add the feature to other county parks.

In the spirit of his playful mood Wednesday, Bartlett stepped beneath the water spray and ordered it turned on, dousing him with water.

Erik Larsen: 732-682-9359 or elarsen@gannettnj.com