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Members of the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced the opening of Willingboro Lakes, saying the County’s newest park will give residents and visitors a picturesque destination to relax, hike, fish, kayak and enjoy the outdoors within one of the county’s largest suburbs.
Tucked off Route 130 and Beverly-Rancocas Road, the 105-acre park will provide an escape from the hustle and bustle just outside its gates, with amenities such as three fishing piers, 2.9 miles of hiking trails, a small-group pavilion, log-themed play area, grills and picnic sites.
“The best park system in the entire state just became even better,” Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson said during a Wednesday ceremony celebrating the much-anticipated new park’s opening.
The park will open to the public on Thursday morning, Oct. 22.
“Willingboro Lakes offers residents here in Willingboro and from across the county a fantastic new spot to enjoy outdoor recreation and the natural beauty of our county.” Hopson said. “It took a long-time to become a reality, but it is more than worth the wait.”
The development of the park spans several decades and was the result of a unique partnership between the County, Willingboro and the State of New Jersey and its Green Acres open space and parks development program.
The property was once a sand excavation site and its two large lakes – one spanning 28 acres and the other 18 acres – were formed at the turn of the 20th century when workers pumped sand and dirt out of the ground for transport via rail cars and boats on the Rancocas Creek for projects such as the Philadelphia Subway System. It later became a popular commercial recreation spot known as Olympia Lakes before being targeted for residential development during the 1990s housing boom.
Willingboro partnered with the County to purchase the property in 1997, using a 50% grant and loan from the state Green Acres program to purchase the property for $2 million. The township made some improvements to the preserve, including fencing along Route 130, before agreeing to transfer the property to the County in 2011 to develop into its 12th county park.
Burlington County paid off the township’s remaining loan balances and then developed preliminary and final engineering and design plans for the park improvements, including the trails, restrooms, fishing piers, playground equipment and other improvements.
Construction on the $2.44 million in park improvements commenced in August 2019 by Eagle Construction Services and was funded in part by an additional $1.1 million in Green Acres funding obtained by the County for the project. The remaining balance of the expense was covered with monies from the County’s dedicated open space and farmland preservation trust fund.
“It took a lot of vision, patience and hard work, but the moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here and it’s even better than we originally imagined,” said Deputy Director Tom Pullion. “This is a park that the residents of Willingboro and the entire county can be proud of and enjoy. I’m thrilled we are able to finally bring it to a reality and it shows what partnerships like the one we have with Willingboro and the State of New Jersey and its Green Acres program can produce.”
Amenities and wildlife
The park’s major amenities are the fishing docks and trails, along with a boulder terrace outdoor classroom, playground and pavilion. The lakes are also ideal for kayaking and canoeing.
The trails use a mix of materials, including asphalt, stone and wood planks to make much of the property handicapped accessible. The longest trail loops around the eastern lake and is 1.2 miles. The other trails are .46 miles, .52 miles, .25 miles and .49 miles respectively.
County officials said the intent was to maintain much of the natural feel and rural character of the property, and there is substantial wildlife on the preserved tract, including more than 100 different birds, 40-plus species of butterflies and dragonflies and damselflies and other animals such as turtles, frogs, deer, muskrats, foxes and river otter.
“We’re proud of all our county parks but this one is special because it’s located right next to Route 130. It’s almost like a wooded haven inside of suburbia. Many of the views are just stunning,” said Freeholder Linda Hynes, who is the Freeholder Board’s liaison to the Department of Resource Conservation.
Access to the outdoors
Willingboro is also Burlington County’s largest majority-minority community. According to the latest Census Bureau estimates, about 82% of the township’s 32,000 residents are believed to be either Black or African American or Hispanics or Latinos.
Hynes said ensuring all Burlington County residents enjoy access to the County’s top-notch parks and outdoor recreation opportunities they offer is one of the Freeholder Board’s top priorities.
“Our Board has brought diversity and equality to the forefront and that commitment extends to our parks and recreation,” Hynes said. “We want all our residents to feel welcome and comfortable to come here to enjoy the natural beauty in our county and the ample opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation.”
Park access has also become important during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as residents and families seek safe spaces where they can exercise and escape the confines of their homes.
“We all know what a challenging year this has been for families across Burlington County. It’s nice to now be able to celebrate something positive like opening a park in our community that connects us to the natural world, to each other, and to fun physical and social opportunities,” said Willingboro Mayor Tiffani Worthy.
Willingboro Lakes is the 12th park in the County Parks system made up of more than 1,000 acres of developed parkland and more than 50 miles of regional trails.
The other parks are Amico Island Park in Delran, Boundary Creek Natural Resource Area in Moorestown, the Burlington County Agricultural Center in Moorestown, the County Fairgrounds in Springfield, Crystal Lake Park in Mansfield, Historic Smithville Park and Smith’s Woods in Eastampton, Laurel Run Park in Delran, Pennington Park in Riverside, Rancocas Nature Center in Westampton and Rancocas State Park in Hainesport.
Burlington County Freeholder Deputy Director Tom Pullion speaks during Wednesday’s ceremony marking the opening of Willingboro Lakes Park.
Burlington County Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson speaks during Wednesday’s ceremony marking the opening of Willingboro Lakes Park.
Burlington County Freeholder Deputy Director Tom Pullion and Freeholder Director Felicia Hopson stand on one of the fishing piers at Willingboro Lakes, the newest park in Burlington County’s Parks System.