Columbia Park Gathering Place Project

Issues This Project Will Address:
Stormwater Management, Seating Area at Park Entrance, and Public Education

Lower Columbia Park is a gathering place for Berkeley Heights residents and host to numerous visitors each year. Located adjacent to Columbia Middle School, this park is home to countless recreational sports teams, outdoor events, the township’s outdoor summer camp, and walking trails for those who want to ride bikes or just enjoy the outdoors. Currently, though, there is no location in the park where people can rest before entering the bike/walking trail and entering the park itself. Also, this park entrance currently suffers from stormwater runoff and flooding from the creek that flows to the Passaic River.

Current Area

This project, made possible by a 2020 Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions Open Space Stewardship Grant, is a joint effort between the Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission and the Berkeley Heights Recreation Department. Specifically, the project is aimed at accomplishing several objectives:

  1. Provide additional seating/rest area for park visitors
  2. Use nature as a stormwater management tool
  3. Educate the public about stormwater management and how using trees serves as a natural means to address this issue.

In short, not only will this project beautify our park, but it will accomplish several environmental and educational objectives.

Project Goal

The end goal of our project is to have a brick retaining wall that doubles as seating, with native shrubbery and swamp-friendly trees, to provide community members an alternative seating/gathering location to the picnic tables further into the park. There will also be a sign adjacent to this area that discusses the trees’ role in stormwater management.

Project Description and Vision

The specifics of the project as we envision it are as follows.  The retaining wall will contain a planting bed. Within the planting bed, there will be 10 shrubs, Inkberry Holly. Beyond the planting bed, there is a “swampy area” that is overflowing from the creek. As a stormwater management device, within this swampy area, we will plant three Riverbirch trees. These trees are native trees to the area and absorb water from the ground more effectively than other trees currently in that area that are suffering from rot and will need to be removed for safety reasons.

 Proposed New Area Sketch 


As for the project’s location, the area in which this project is taking place is visited by thousands of people per year; in addition to a walking/bike path, there are 6 tennis courts that are utilized year-round by not only Berkeley Heights Residents, but by residents of the neighboring towns as well.

Educating the Public About the Project's Benefits

To educate the public, there will be signage put up discussing the environment and how the Riverbirch trees are beneficial for the surrounding areas and addressing storm run-off concerns. Accordingly, through this signage, the thousands of people who visit this park annually will be educated about the value that trees serve in the stormwater management process.

Moreover, science teachers and students from Columbia Middle School, located adjacent to the park, can visit this area as an “outdoor classroom” for learning, similar to the “outdoor classroom” that currently exists at Governor Livingston High School that the AP Environmental Science class uses.

Who Is Helping To Actualize This Project

At this time, the Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission and the Berkeley Heights Recreation Department gratefully acknowledge and thank local landscaper Joe Franchino of JLFranchino who has volunteered his time and effort with the project during its commencement stage. Other labor for this project will be provided by the Berkeley Heights Department of Public Works. The following are five photos (provided by Carolyn George, Associate Recreation Director for the Recreation Department) showing the progress that has been made on the project as of December 2020 as a result of Joe's help:

Progress 1 CroppedProgress 2 CroppedProgress 3 CroppedProgress 4 CroppedProgress 5

Articles in TAPinto Berkeley Heights, Patch, and Berkeley Heights Community News

January 7, 2021
Columbia Park Gathering Place Project