MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A favorite among local and regional visitors alike, Maplewood Memorial Park was designated as one of New Jersey’s Great Spaces by the NJ Chapter of the American Planning Association, in an award presentation that took place at the Maplewood Civic House on Oct. 15.
Great Places in New Jersey, the flagship program of the New Jersey Chapter of the APA-NJ, celebrates downtowns, streets, neighborhoods and public spaces of exemplary character, quality and planning, according to the organization.
Mayor Vic Deluca accepted the award on the township’s behalf at the gathering, then went on to do a walking tour of the park before ending at Maplewood Memorial Library, where the mayor discussed the town’s “Library for the Future” initiative, a vision integrates the park and library.
The application for the APA-NJ award was completed and submitted by Annette De Palma, Maplewood’s director of community development.
“We all share in the honor of this award,” DeLuca said at the event. “The township is very committed to making the park even better.”
The award was presented by South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, who also serves as the executive director of the APA-NJ. The independent nonprofit organization provides leadership in the development of vital communities by advocating excellence in community planning, promoting citizen empowerment, and providing the tools and support necessary to meet the challenges of growth and change, according to APA-NJ.
“We were thrilled to receive an application for this designation,” Collum said during her remarks at the event. “This is a town with great neighborhoods, great downtown and great parks. The criteria that goes into selecting a winner looks at location, accessibility, programming and historic value.”
Collum also cited Maplewoodstock, the recent improvements to the park and the ongoing maintenance of the space as additional factors that contributed to Maplewood Memorial Park’s winning the award.
“Unlike some contests, where residents and professionals alike are voting, the Great Places committee is comprised of only professionals, such as developers and planners,” she said. “These people are trained in planning and the threshold is very high, so this is an award to be very proud of.”
At the presentation, Maplewood Historic Preservation Commissioner Gary Nelson discussed the historic aspects of the park.
“The purpose of the Maplewood Historic Preservation Commission is to do historic research, provide advice when necessary, and also work to identify and protect historic landmarks in our town,” he told attendees. “This park was carefully planned before Maplewood was even a town, and it remained the largest and most central location for locals and out-of-towners alike.
“The commission has recognized its importance on many different occasions,” Nelson continued. “We spearheaded the master plan that guides and shapes the future of this park, and we will continue to do so while honoring its past.”
In addition to maintaining the beauty and history of the park, the township is also looking at ways to incorporate the space with the library, moving forward.
“We’re talking about building renovations, remodeling it to make it a library of the future with more technology, increased space and community rooms,” DeLuca said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “All of the architects that we have spoken to say that right now the library is serving as a buffer, and we need to work to bring the park into the library and the library into the park.”
DeLuca said they are looking to bring the “Library for the Future” initiative to fruition in the next couple of years.
“The master plan that was provided by an outside consultant in 2014 will be used as our basis as we continue to restore the park. It captures the different uses and the tree shed, and it will be our reference as we go forward,” he said. “We want to make sure that the park will always be a combination of active and passive sports and activities, and we will use that plan as the blueprint for how we can keep it going in that direction.”
Photos by Shanee Frazier