Morristown’s newest park doesn’t have a name yet.
But it has lots of Prairie Dropseed, Poverty Rush and Wavy Hair Grass–not to mention echinacea and flowering aster.
“When that landscaping truck came in, I thought, no way they’re going to be able to plant all those plants. Well guess what? They did,” Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty said at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting at Speedwell Avenue and Prospect Street.
Measuring just under an acre, this sloped sliver in the shadow of the Modera apartments will get a name, and a sculpture, in the spring, the mayor said.
For now, visitors can lounge in a few Adirondack chairs, send kiddies down a short slide, and play ping pong on an all-weather table.
The park has been a long time coming; plans stretch back to at least 2015. When a proposal by renowned designer Ken Smith proved too lavish–construction bids topped $2 million–the town asked the SALT Design Studio and Dewberry engineering to scale it down.
Retaining walls were cut from the plans, with emphasis placed on native species of grasses, plants and sedges to absorb runoff on the tract, which drops 20 feet as it rolls down to Prospect Street.
Park access from Speedwell Avenue was complicated by a legal dispute with a property owner, delaying things for awhile, according to town officials.
In April, a Democratic primary challenger to the mayor alleged cost overruns, and said the mayor let Modera developer Mill Creek Residential back away from sharing park maintenance costs with the town.
The town opted for an increased one-time payment from Mill Creek, in return for assuming full maintenance responsibility, according to town Administrator Jillian Barrick. She said the town will seek bids from maintenance contractors.
Construction costs were held to around $800,000 by re-using fill from the site, instead of hauling in fresh soil, said town Engineer Anthony DeVisio. Those costs were split with Mill Creek.
Ground finally was broken in April, with the park opening scheduled for August. The ribbon-cutting was put off until Wednesday because autumn is optimal for planting grasses and plants, Barrick said.
“It’s been a labor of love for a lot of us, because it really accents these two (Modera) buildings, and it’s a gateway into Speedwell Avenue,” said Dougherty, who is running unopposed next week for a fourth term.
Council members David Silva and Sandi Mayer and Shade Tree Commission Chairperson Kristin Ace attended the brief morning ceremony, under cloudy skies in a cool breeze.
Everyone is likely to return come spring, for the unveiling of a sculpture by Atlanta artist Nathan Pierce. He was commissioned by the nonprofit Morris Arts, under a town policy requiring re-developers to underwrite public art.
Park maintenance should entail little more than frequent watering for the first year, and cutting dead grasses annually in late winter, said Sara Pevaroff Schuh, landscape architect from SALT.
“If these plants can get the care and love they need in the first year, they will reward you for years to come,” Schuh said. When established, she said, the vegetation should form a mat to combat erosion “and provide beauty for everybody in the community.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, naturally, and Paul Marshall wasn’t crazy about the new park.
“They spent a huge amount of money on all this planting. It would have been much nicer if it was all grass,” said Marshall, the property owner with the legal dispute. (Disclosure: Marshall is a contributor to MorristownGreen.com.)
He also dislikes the park’s black chain-link fence, which abuts backyards of houses he owns along Clinton Place.
But Peter Gilpatric, Marshall’s business partner, was willing to let the park grow on him.
“It’s lovely,” he said. “It’s an asset. Hopefully, it gets used.”