Seeking 'open space justice' on the Cooper River

Members of a grassroots group called "Friends of Cooper River Park West" plan to attend Thursday’s Camden County Freeholder Board meeting to advocate for what they call “open space justice” in Camden.

The Friends want the freeholders to target parkland along the Cooper River west of Route 130 in the city and in Pennsauken Township for comprehensive planning and improvements similar to those under way east of the highway in the Cherry Hill-Collingswood portion of the park.  See my column about the improvement plan here.

Known as Gateway Park, the scenic expanse of fields, woods and walking/biking trails on the north side of the river along Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden and Pennsauken has been locked behind gates for a dozen years. The park is supposed to become part of the Camden Greenway.

"As a Camden resident, I have to get in my car, with my bike, and go over to the east side to ride in Cooper River Park," says Martha Chavis, a member of the Friends. The group has collected 350 signatures on a petition, urging what it calls "equity" in funding and planning efforts.

A "vision plan" is calling for $23 million in improvements to the eastern portion of the park. "We're asking for a vision plan of the same depth and detail for the west side," Chavis says.

Freeholder Jeff Nash says the county is willing to work with the Friends but cannot do much beyond routine grass-cutting until the Delaware River Port Authority transfers ownership of the land. The DRPA created Gateway Park 12 years ago, in preparation for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

“The bottom line is, it needs to be open,” adds Nash, who is a member of the DRPA board.