Burlington County will seek state funding to assist with a planned $1.6 million upgrade to Long Bridge Park to make the park playgrounds and facilities all-inclusive and accessible.
The Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to approve an application to the New Jersey Green Acres program under Jake’s Law, which encourages counties to build playgrounds to better accommodate people with disabilities. Under the 2018 law, counties can apply for grants up to 75% of the project cost to develop and improve parks with accessible play features.
Burlington County is seeking a $1,258,000 grant from the program to improve both existing playgrounds in Long Bridge Park. Both play areas have equipment close to 20 years-old that is nearing the end of its useful life. The planned upgrades will replace the equipment with new play elements and other features designed to make the playgrounds and park more inclusive and accessible.
“Burlington County has some of the best parks in the region and our Board is committed to making sure everyone can access and enjoy them,” said Burlington County Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson. “This grant will help us upgrade the playgrounds in Long Bridge so all children can safely play and interact without any limitations.”
Burlington County is already considered a state leader in developing accessible parks and trails. Nearly every County Park has accessible paths and trails, and the playgrounds in Long Bridge Park, Willingboro Lakes, Historic Smithville Park in Eastampton and Pennington Park in Delanco are all ADA compliant.
Long Bridge Park is the first playground location the County plans to upgrade beyond ADA requirements.
The 115-acre park is located off Deacon Road in Hainesport and features upland and lowland forests, a freshwater pond, Rancocas Creek shoreline, tidal marshland and meadows. In addition to the two play areas, the park has several picnic pavilions, a bike trail, boardwalks, hiking trails and restrooms.
The park is also home to more than 100 species of birds, butterflies and other wildlife, including Great Blue heron, beavers, rabbits and box turtles.
The County’s plans are to redevelop both playgrounds with new “nature-themed” inclusive play features and accessible equipment, including large pieces resembling bird nests and climbing boulders. There will also be embankment slides, group swings and accessible paths to the upper and lower tier play areas, solid safety surfacing and other elements that address physical, sensory, cognitive, social and imaginative development.
Existing picnic pavilions will also be enhanced with new plantings, accessible seating and connections to park trails, parking areas and restroom facilities. The improvements will primarily use natural materials and will offer environmental education opportunities.
The New Jersey Green Acres program is expected to award grants this summer and the County anticipates contracting for final design and engineering for the park improvements in the fall. Construction is tentatively expected to begin late next year.
Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel, the liaison to the Department of Resource Conservation and Parks, said the County is committed to making its parks as accessible and inclusive as possible so that no resident or child feels excluded.
“All children deserve to have places where they can play and interact with other children and their families without experiencing any physical or social barriers,” Eckel said. “Creating all-inclusive playgrounds at Long Bridge Park ensures it remains a premier outdoor destination for all residents to visit and enjoy, and we’re grateful the State of New Jersey is making funding available to assist with these improvements.”
In addition to the Long Bridge Park improvements, the Commissioners voted last summer to contribute $400,000 to the cost of renovating a large outdoor playground at the Burlington County Special Services School District’s Westampton Campus so that it remains handicapped-accessible and barrier-free. The planned improvements include a new play surface and new accessible equipment.
The Commissioners have also awarded grants to Burlington County towns to build inclusive playgrounds and other upgrades in municipal parks to improve accessibility, including the Jake’s Place playground at Delran Community Park.