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Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. watches as the old synthetic grass surface is removed from the Roberto Clemente Field in the Essex County Branch Brook Park Middle Division on Thursday, November 29th. The field will be modernized with a new synthetic grass surface. The improvements are part of the County Executive’s ongoing initiative to ensure recreation facilities are up to date and meet the needs of the community. (Photo courtesy of Essex County)

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced on Thursday, November 29th that work to modernize the Roberto Clemente Field in the Essex County Branch Brook Park Middle Division was underway. The improvements are part of the County Executive’s ongoing initiative to ensure recreation facilities are up to date and meet the needs of the community.

“High school and community recreation programs rely on our fields to host their games and practices, so it’s important that our facilities are up to date. Installing a synthetic grass surface on the Roberto Clemente Field in 2005 was a great investment because of the high usage the field receives. It allows more teams to utilize the field without the natural grass and dirt getting worn down, and provides better drainage so the field can be used sooner after inclement weather,” DiVincenzo said. “The new surface we are installing today will be where our next generation of athletes will play,” he added.

The Roberto Clemente Field is heavily utilized by youth recreation programs and high school teams. The original synthetic grass surface was installed in 2005 and needed to be replaced due to regular wear and tear. The baseball field will be modernized with a new synthetic grass surface and repairs to the fencing will be made where necessary.

The improvements were designed in-house by the Essex Department of Public Works, which also will monitor the project to ensure delays are avoided. Applied Landscape Technologies from Montville was awarded a publicly-bid contract for $674,000 to perform the construction work. It is being funded with a grant from the Community Development Block Grant Program. The field is scheduled to be reopened by the spring of 2019.

Revitalizing Essex County’s Branch Brook Park

The Branch Brook Park Alliance has been the primary partner with Essex County to revitalize Branch Brook Park, which opened in 1895. More than $50 million of upgrades have been made throughout the Park through this partnership. Park enhancements have been supported with grants from corporations, the New Jersey Green Acres program, the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, philanthropic organizations and community members. In addition, the Alliance has sponsored a variety of programs to clean the waterways, spruce up the park, maintain the cherry tree collection, develop an urban farm, among other activities.

Synthetic grass surfaces were installed on the Ray Dandridge and Jerome Greco Little League Fields in 2018. A bronze bust of Frederick Law Olmstead was dedicated in 2018 and a bronze bust of Mendelssohn was restored and rededicated in 2017; both are located in the Prudential Concert Grove. A playground designed with a cherry blossom theme was opened at the Essex County Cherry Blossom Welcome Center in 2015. The Barbara Bell Coleman Welcome Center and Concourse Hill upgrades, along with the opening of a two-mile, synthetic surface walking track, creation of a children’s garden at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center, renovation of a well in the Park’s Northern Division, the rehabilitation of the Reservoir Walls in the Park’s Southern Division and modernization of the Clifton Avenue basketball courts were completed in 2014. The bronze statue honor the late tennis legend Althea Gibson was dedicated and the 20-court tennis complex named in her honor received a complete makeover in March 2012 and the field house in the tennis complex was renovated in July 2012.

A multi-phase project to upgrade the lakefront in the Southern Division was completed in April 2012. It included the restoration of the historic Prudential Lions statues and balustrade, the rehabilitation of two buildings for restrooms and public meeting space, updating the music court with new pavers and landscaping. The music court overlooking the lake was dedicated as the “Prudential Concert Grove” to recognize the corporation’s ongoing support to restore the Park, and a memorial cherry tree grove was rededicated in honor of Kiyofumi Sakaguchi, who was President and CEO of Prudential International Insurance at the time of his death.

The renovation of the historic Octagon Fieldhouse in the Essex County Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex was completed in April 2011. Completed in 2010 were a project to pave the park roadway, upgrade walking paths, and install historic lighting in the section of the park from the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center to Heller Parkway, the planting of 600 Cherry Trees and other trees throughout Branch Brook Park and the paving of the park roadway from Mill Street to Washington Street.

In September 2009, the Middle Division Recreation Complex was renamed as the “Essex County Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex,” in honor of the founder of The North Ward Center and Robert Treat Academy. In August 2009, a synthetic surface football/soccer field was constructed and named after NFL Hall of Famer and Barringer High School alumni Andre Tippett. Earlier in 2009, a "demonstration project" in the Branch Brook Park Extension enhanced landscaping, added Cherry Trees, improved pathways and modernized entranceways into the park from Franklin Avenue. The Bloomfield Avenue Bridge that passes over the Middle Division was rehabilitated in 2009.

The Cherry Blossom Welcome Center was renovated and transformed into a year-round showplace to raise awareness about the Japanese Flowering Cherry Blossom Trees in 2008. A replica of the historic Octagon Shelter in the Southern Division of Essex County Branch Brook Park was built in 2007 and the baseball field complex known as the "three diamonds" was upgraded in 2007. The baseball/softball complex in the Branch Brook Park Middle Division was reopened in April 2005 after a remediation and modernization project, and the historic restoration of the Park Avenue Bridge was completed in 2005. Entrance enhancements, new fencing and landscaping along Clifton Avenue and Mill Street, and a major improvement project along Lake Street have made the park more inviting.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 23 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, a miniature golf course, golf driving range, four off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Branch Brook Park was created in 1895 and is the first park in Essex County’s system. At 359.72 acres, it is the largest county park in Essex.


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