"These 15 acres will no longer be used as a haven for drug dealers - this land is ours," Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey L. Nash said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "These 15 acres will be a safe haven for our children. The quality of life that we want for our children begins with a field of dreams and a baseball game."
Six years ago the park was part of a North Camden redevelopment plan lead by Coopers Ferry Partnership, the county, city and community leaders Rodney Sadler of Save Our Waterfront and Bryan Morton, founder and President of the North Camden Little League.
"It took a while, yes," said City Councilman Luis Lopez, who represents North Camden. "But today we see the final product. Hallelujah."
The $4 million renovation includes baseball fields, soccer fields, basketball courts, a playground, ADA accessible amenities, a combined concession stand and restroom facility. The park also improves storm-water management to lessen flooding and has upgraded lighting, security cameras, fencing and on-street parking.
Additional plans would create a 2.8-mile trail at the park, which is North Camden's only access point to the Cooper River.
Funds came from the Camden County Open Space Trust Fund and Recreational Trails Program and the Delaware River Port Authority. The Wells Fargo Regional Foundation and William Penn Foundation also contributed.
The park received $1.45 million from the state DEP Green Acres fund. The Legislature approved a $400 million bond in 2009 to go to projects throughout the state, but that money is nearly gone, said Tom Gilbert, chairman of the NJ Keep it Green Coalition, a statewide institution advocating for Green Acres and similar state programs.
"The bond is gone and the Legislature has not acted to determine what the next funding source will be," Gilbert said.
Legislators are still grappling with how to fund the program. Gilbert said he hoped they will act by June 30, before the summer recess, in order to put a question to voters in the fall.
"If they miss that window, it would leave everything in limbo, the future uncertain about whether, when, and how this program is going to be funded," he said.
"This is a microcosm of what these programs mean. The same story is playing out throughout the state where there's a need for these green spaces, especially in cities."
For Morton, who started the Little League in 2011, the field is a point of pride for his players who have grown in number from 45 to more than 400 boys and girls aged 5 to 19 on 27 teams this year.
"Come out any day of the week. We've got baseball happening and you will see you can take your shoes off and walk through the grass. That's an honor, that's something we the residents, the players, the members of the North Camden Little League wear with so much pride," he said.
Since the park's renovation, Jose Rodriguez, 57, has been taking his 4-year-old grandson to the park on nice mornings - something he never would have considered before.
"I've never seen it like this but now, let's see what happens," he said. "Now the question is, can they take care of it?"