This article has been updated with a comment from a resident.
As a boy, Fred Profeta used to walk through a small, wooded area alongside the brook on his way to and from Jefferson School.
"I always thought it was one of the nicest, most picturesque areas in Maplewood," said ProfetaMaplewood and one of its most civic-minded residents.
Now, Profeta wants to pay forward his enjoyment of the little spot -- a small triangle of land next to Crooked Brook off Woodland Road -- by helping to build a pocket park there. He presented his plan at the last Township Committee meeting, offering to pay $20,000 of the costs of designing and building the park, which he estimates will total roughly $40,000.
He proposed naming it "Brook Park."
Currently, the spot is used by commuters cutting through Brookside Road on their way to and from the train station, as well as by Jefferson students and parents. The area is just opposite the school's "outdoor classroom."
Profeta is currently commissioning plans from two landscape architects. He foresees the park as a quiet, contemplative space, perhaps with some light recreation, that will incorporate the bridge and brook. All trees would be preserved. Profeta said the Maplewood Garden Club and the Green Team could potentially play a role in the park's use.
He pointed out in a recent interview that Brook Park could also complement the Rahway River Greenway project and the bike path, which runs along Woodland Road. In addition, he said, Jefferson students could use it as a supplement to the school's outdoor classroom.
The members of the township's Planning and Engineering Committee have signaled their initial approval of the idea. Since part of the land is owned by the school district, Profeta will need to obtain an easement, he said. He will also hold meetings with neighbors whose backyards abut Brookside Road, to involve them in the process.
If the idea gets the go ahead, the township would most likely use Open Space Trust Fund money to build the park, said Township Committeeman Jerry Ryan, who chairs the planning and engineering committee.
Ryan said that since the Department of Public Works currently maintains the area, plowing the road in the winter and maintaining the sanitary sewer system, the incremental cost of maintenance should be minimal.
"The real question is neighborhood buy-in," said Ryan in an interview with Patch, "because this is in people's backyards." Besides that, Ryan said the idea seemed to be a "no-brainer."
As Mayor Vic DeLuca told Profeta at the Dec. 19 meeting, "You are offering us free money...and that's something we don't get offered a lot."
One long-term resident, who wished to remain anonymous, was critical of the plan, calling it "disturbing" and "outrageous."
"Former mayor Profeta's intentions to 'landscape' one of the few remaining pockets of relatively undisturbed woodland in Maplewood, while well-intentioned, is extremely upsetting," said the resident. "As one of the commuters who has walked through the Brookside Drive area for many years, I greatly value this beautiful sliver of mature trees and meandering stream gently bordered by native stone walls and a lovely small arched stone bridge, all irreplaceable. The idea of tearing apart this tranquil haven which already serves as green space, to the benefit of contractors, construction crews and the supposed improvements of an architect seems to me, frankly, outrageous and totally unwelcomed by those who use the area. I am sure there are far more urgent matters facing Maplewood than the destruction of a small bit of tranquil woodland that has long provided invaluable pleasure to Maplewood residents."
The resident did note that she believed Profeta to be "a kind and caring individual who welcomes comments and feedback from residents."
Profeta said the park would not take long to build, and perhaps could be completed as early as this fall.
Profeta hopes the park will inspire other, similar projects, he said. For instance, he mentioned the area of town-owned land at the corner of Kendall and Jefferson Roads, as well as a wooded area off Boyden Parkway behind Winchester Gardens.
"It would be nice if more of this could happen," said Profeta. "One thing we lack in Maplewood is open space. It would be a very nice trend if there could be more public/private partnerships like this."