The temperature dropped to 30F on Wednesday and just after sundown, a COVID-safe grouping of Community Leaders huddled around a fire pit by the South Orange Skate House and raised a glass to toast the inauguration of the Meadowland Park Conservancy, the non-profit founded by Matt Glass, Linda Beck, and Neil Chambers, newly responsible for reenvisioning the 30 familiar acres of open space in the heart of South Orange Village. Despite the appendage-numbing temperature, it was fitting: one of the goals of Conservancy is to encourage the community to engage with the park 365 days a year.
Braving the chilly toast last night in celebration under Saturn, Jupiter, and the moon was a robust crowd, including Village President Sheena Collum and members of the Board of Trustees, the South Orange Fire Department, Departments of Public Works, Health, and Recreation and Cultural Affairs, the Environmental Commission, and the South Orange Public Library. Local lighting designer Cat Starmer added a dramatic touch to the event by uplighting the trees adjacent to the Skate House with fixtures lent by SOPAC.
Founders Glass, Beck, and Chambers offered an idea of what's to come within the park. "Each of the three of us brings something unique to the table," Glass said. "I am a public space and public events guy. Linda is a naturalist. Neil is a designer and horticulturalist. Our goal is the make this park a feature of Essex County and of the region, coming at it from multiple angles. We have a 30 acre palette here. South Orange needs to get this right."
"I'm down here all the time with my kids," said Chambers. "It's a really special place. I'd like to experiment with different engagement installations, outdoor living rooms, floating docks, things to get people looking at nature differently."
Beck gave some insight into the possibilities, "Tonight as we were setting up, I had a moment alone and a belted kingfisher circled the pond, its clicking song the only sound I could hear. Just as the sun was setting, a flock of geese deployed their landing gear and skied into the water. By bolstering the ecosystem - planting native plants to encourage native wildlife and rethinking slopes and surfaces, these little moments will become more plentiful. We have a real opportunity here."
The park has a tradition of creative collaborative engagement with community leaders and organizations. Last year, the SOPL, the SOFD, the SOPD, and the Health Department hosted a fireside storytime by the pond. This spring would have been the tenth anniversary of South Orange River Day, our annual river clean up involving too many local business and resident volunteers to name, but for COVID restrictions. Many residents look forward each year to the historic baseball game on Cameron Field, a collaboration of the South Orange Historic Preservation Commission and the Recreation Department. Floods Hill is traditionally covered with mittened tobogganists of all ages within minutes of snowfall.
Last night's showing, despite the cold, confirms the commitment by our community leaders to finally give this area the focus it has deserved for a long time. The next spotlight will be on the Winter Equinox, December 21st. Keep an eye out for an announcement about that upcoming event!
NOTE: Thanks to the Fox and Falcon, who lent us champagne glasses so that we could keep our waste to a minimum. Our snack bags were packaged in pre-consumer, compostable paper bags.