A giant step forward for Capital Park in Trenton


by Jay Watson, Co-Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

The completion of a six-year, $300 million renovation of New Jersey’s historic State House in Trenton was cause for celebration this spring, but there was something important missing: a green oasis worthy of this magnificent building and the capital city’s residents and visitors.

Thanks to a vigorous campaign by park advocates and residents — and responsive action from the State Legislature and Governor Phil Murphy — a vision for a beautiful urban park that complements the State House is finally on its way to becoming a reality.

New Jersey’s 2024 fiscal year budget, adopted on June 30, contains a $3 million appropriation for the design and engineering of Capital Park, an inviting green space that will serve Trenton residents while attracting visitors to the downtown area and providing opportunities for outdoor programs.

The budget appropriation is a long-needed step toward greening and linking the Capitol Complex and state assets, which include the State House and Annex, State Library, State Archives, State Museum and Planetarium, Old Barracks Museum, War Memorial building, Petty’s Run archaeological site and more.

This commitment to build a world-class park in Trenton – and reverse an unfortunate trend of taking green space away – was a long time coming.

More than 100 years ago, the city and state worked together to create Stacy Park, a grand expanse of open space extending from the back of the State House down to the banks of the Delaware River. Over the following decades, however, much of Stacy Park was gobbled up to create paved parking lots and Route 29. River access from downtown was completely severed.

In 2004, Gov. James McGreevey proposed to create a new state park in Trenton to provide public green space to underserved populations, preserve significant historic sites, and protect natural resources. He left office before plans could be completed, but Gov. Jon Corzine continued work on Capital Park.

The park proposal called for a unified green space connecting the Capitol Complex neighborhood with the waterfront. The project was put out to bid in 2009, but ultimately abandoned by the incoming administration of Gov. Chris Christie.

Although Gov. Christie didn’t advance the Capital Park plans, he did authorize the restoration of the State House building, which had become a fire and safety hazard. The capitol building dates to 1792, making it the second-oldest in the nation, behind Maryland.

When the State House restoration wrapped up in March, and visitors were once again welcomed into the gold-domed building, the time was right to make another strong push for Capital Park.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation joined with partner groups New Jersey Future, the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, and Isles Inc. to rally public support. Nearly 800 individuals and organizations signed an online petition calling for the Capital Park project to be funded. My sister, Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman — whose congressional district includes Trenton — joined State Sen. Shirley Turner at a lively press event in April.

Fortunately, state legislative leaders responded, recognizing that this may be the last chance to create the public green space that Trenton needs and deserves.

Sen. Turner, a true park champion, became the lead sponsor of the budget resolution to fund Capital Park. Joining as co-sponsors were Senators Troy Singleton, Bob Smith, Vin Gopal, Gordon Johnson, Brian Stack, Teresa Ruiz and Andrew Zwicker. In the state Assembly, sponsors included Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Anthony Verrelli, and Joe Danielsen.

Thank you to Sen. Turner and our leaders in Trenton for their commitment to making Capital Park a reality. What a great way to cap off the State House restoration and leave a wonderful legacy for the people of this state we’re in!

In addition to the recreational and economic benefits Capital Park will bring to downtown Trenton, the park has the potential to help mitigate climate change and flooding. Infrastructure to absorb stormwater runoff is sorely needed along the Delaware River, as was seen by the recent deadly flooding at Washington’s Crossing, a short distance upstream. If properly designed, Capital Park can become a shining example of state-of-the-art stormwater management.

Capital Park is also part of a larger initiative to reconnect people to the river by turning the section of busy Route 29 next to the park into a boulevard, with slower traffic flow and safe crossings for pedestrians.

It’s exciting to see the governor and Legislature make this incredible investment in Trenton, which played an important role in the American Revolution and is a key New Jersey visitor destination. We urge legislators to keep up the momentum in the coming years, approving the funding needed for Capital Park’s completion!

To learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, including urban parks, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at [email protected].