With the clock ticking away toward the Camden Children’s Garden advertised March 31 eviction date, a local group is hosting a spring festival and fund-raiser at the garden Saturday.
The Camden District Council Collaborative Board, a group of community members who address public-safety and quality-of-life issues in Camden, will be hosting a Spring has Sprung Festival from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Camden Children’s Garden on the Camden Waterfront.
Organizers are asking people to “pay what you wish” to the Camden City Garden Club, which operates the garden, in lieu of entrance fee.
Last month, the Treasury Department ordered the Children’s Garden to vacate most of its waterfront site next to the Adventure Aquarium. Children’s Garden was told to remove attractions from three of its four acres by March 31, including the amusement rides, gazebo, giant dinosaur, and butterfly house that have entertained children since 1999.
The news resulted in an outpouring of community and political support. Sen. Donald Norcross (D- Camden) arranged for a meeting between both sides last month, including state Treasury officials coming to the garden to tour the site.
But despite the talks between both sides, there hasn’t been a resolution and supporters of the garden have been receiving letters from Associated Deputy State Treasurer David Ridolfino that say:
“Despite what has been claimed, the State is not seeking to stop the Children's Garden mission of community garden operations— just the opposite. However, the Children’s Garden has been occupying a parcel of State property for years while refusing to acknowledge the State’s ownership interest in that property,” Ridolfino wrote.
The letter has infuriated garden officials.
“They act like we have been refusing to sign a lease for a long time. However, the state has never said they owned the land or asked us to sign a lease during the first 12 years we were here when five different Governors and their administrations ran the state and several of those governors personally supported the Garden or events and programs at the Garden,” Children's Garden executive director Mike Devlin responded to me in an e-mail.
Treasury claims a 1999 deed shows the state owns the land (the deed outline the land by longitude and latitude measurements, which is hard to convert to lot and block numbers). However, the deed was not filed in the county books until 2011.
“I have never heard of someone waiting 12 years to file a deed publicizing their ownership of a property. Meanwhile, thinking the city owned the land we maintained and continued to invest in projects totaling several million dollars to upgrade and expand our facility during that 12 year period,” Devlin wrote in the e-mail.
Saturday’s festival and fund-raiser will feature arts and crafts, face painting, amusement rides, refreshments, and a children’s health fair. Visitors are welcome to bring in their own lunch to eat at the Picnic Grove within the garden.