By Jay Cook |FAIR HAVEN – Although it’s only a half-acre in size, a secluded pocket park at the foot of DeNormandie Avenue is considered to be a hidden gem right on the Navesink River.Next year construction will begin on a $45,000 project to completely rehabilitate the public beach into one of the borough’s keystone properties. Environmentalists say Fair Haven residents should be excited.“To find this gem, this little diamond in the rough – it’s pretty cool,” said Al Modjeski, a habitat restoration program director with the American Littoral Society. “We can really mold that into something.”The American Littoral Society, based on Sandy Hook and focused on the study and conservation of marine life, is partnering with Fair Haven to overhaul the 0.56-acre public beach and land at 78 DeNormandie Ave.Used by residents for sun bathing and as a kayak launch site, the small beachfront at the footof 78 DeNormandie Ave. will be redesigned into a cleaned-up passive park.Fair Haven borough administrator Theresa Casagrande said the borough has been working for about 18 months to finalize and secure permits to improve the property. She said it’s part of a borough-wide initiative to provide more riverside enjoyment for residents.“When you look up and down the Navesink, keeping public access to the water is very important,” Casagrande said. “We all grew up seining and going in the river, and if there’s no public access to that body of water, it would be a shame.”Modjeski is spearheading the project with design help from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. He said beginning in the spring, the beach in between Fair Haven Yacht Works and a private dock will be widened and deepened with 1,000 cubic yards of sand provided by the county; rubble on the east end of the beach will be removed; boulders or bags of shell will be added into the water to protect the shoreline; a small dune with vegetation will be constructed; and the small coastal bluff will be replanted and cleaned up.Transforming the beach into a go-to spot for Fair Haven residents was the goal all along, he said.“How can you really connect with your environment if you can’t get to it?” Modjeski asked. “If you can’t touch the ecology or taste the biology, you become disconnected, and that’s just not good.”Casagrande said Fair Haven is also working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to secure a management rights agreement for the property which “would allow us to do whatever we wanted in the water there.”Once the project is completed later next year, it would be the terminus of a years-long effort to revamp the once-historic site. According to the borough website, the property was home to the Charles Williams Robard Estate, originally built in the 1850s by Charles Williams, a free African-American. It was occupied and owned by his family and descendants for nearly 160 years until it became vacant and rundown.Fair Haven became interested in the property in 2009, and in 2014 acquired it for $1.2 million with financial assistance from Monmouth Conservation Foundation, Monmouth County and state Blue Acres and Green Acres programs.Casagrande said conversations with the borough’s historic commission began in 2015 to demolish the house and make way for renovations.“As historic as that house was, nothing is more historic than the river,” she said. “That house had to come down as part of this effort to allow for a passive park there.”Casagrande said the 78 DeNormandie Ave. project is part of a borough-wide effort to give the public as access to the Navesink as possible. There’s a public boat ramp at the end of Battin Road which is planned for improvements. Pocket parks located at the end of Hance and Grange avenues are also being sought as part of a Monmouth County open space grant. And then there’s the public dock on Fair Haven Road, “which is probably one of our most used public assets in town,” she said.“All of these projects together are part of us filling our obligation of keeping access to the waterfront for not only residents of Fair Haven, but the public in general,” Casagrande added.This article was first published in the Dec. 14-21, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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