With the movement of a giant earth-moving machine, Essex County took a step forward on Monday morning.
Just days after the county leased the reservoir land adjacent to the South Mountain recreation complex from the City of Orange, work began. County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. removed the first shingles and boards from the dilapidated superintendent’s house facing Cherry Lane.
By Tuesday, said DiVincenzo, passers-by will have an unobstructed view of the water.
The removal of a building and an shed is part of the county plan to upgrade the area's attractions. The 115-acre reservoir will be redeveloped into recreational grounds where people can rent paddle boats, walk, bike, fish and ice skate, among other things.
“For a number of years we have been talking about this area and hoping, really hoping, that we would someday reach this conclusion,” said Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, watching Monday's work. “Everyone benefits.”
The county’s plan to redevelop the Orange Reservoir came together after years of negotiations and lawsuits. The county and City of Orange came to an agreement at the end of September for the county to lease the reservoir for 20 years at $1.6 million.
The project is currently still being designed, but the county expects to build a large open-air pavilion with a “log cabin feeling,” said Mike Piga, landscape architect for French and Parrello, who is designing the area. The pavilion can be used for picnicking and special events, such as weddings.
The pavilion, said Piga, “[will] give you a beautiful view of the reservoir.”
Around the pavilion, new sidewalks and walkways will be laid down, and new lighting, trees, benches and other landscaping features will be added. A boathouse will also be built, where people will be able to rent paddle boats, some in the shape of swans.
In addition, a pathway will be constructed across Cherry Lane from the reservoir and pavilion to a new large parking lot.
Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren said the decision to lease the reservoir to the county, which will develop and improve the land for the good of residents in the area, was “common sense.”
DiVincenzo said this was a great day for Essex County,
“This is an extension of the South Mountain Recreation Complex...It’s a good investment for us to improve the environment; it’s a good investment to improve the quality of life, and it is our goal ... to bring people from within Essex County to use the facility, but also people throughout the state and other states.”
DiVincenzo said the county will use at least $1 million from the state Green Acres Program to pay for the construction, and about another $1 million of open space funds and capital expenditures. The use of public Green Acres funds ensures long after this lease agreement ends, the reservoir will always be used for recreational use.
“This [reservoir] will always be utilized by not only Essex County, but the state of New Jersey.