Public to weigh in on former theme park's future

Rebranding campaign by state includes new name, more amenities


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  • Lions once roamed in West Milford at a theme park, now closed, then known as Jungle Habitat. The site will be rebranded by the state and improved. photo provided



BY ANN GENADER

A new name, better access and more activities appear to be in the future for the former Jungle Habitat property. The former theme park of the 1970s off Airport Road – now owned by the state of New Jersey - has received little attention for years. In fact, the state park has never had an official opening.

Associate Director of New Jersey Park Services John Trontis and Superintendent of Ringwood State Park Eric Pain told of future plans for the property at the Nov. 8 Township of West Milford Council meeting. They are representatives of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Division of Parks and Forestry.

Ideas from local officials and residents – “stakeholders” – will be heard by the state representatives and recorded for consideration when a public meeting is held. Date, time and place of the meeting will be announced when plans for it are made.

Trontis said a new name for the park is necessary because the Jungle Habitat name is still owned by Warner Brothers and cannot legally be used by the state. Realizing that people identify the park by that name and would want it to remain he said maybe there can be an area within the park designated – such as Jungle Habitat Special Use Area.

Pain said there is a long hill next to the adjacent airport property and there could be a possibility of working that into the new name for the park. Other name ideas might involve trees native to the area such as “Maple Grove” or “Beech Grove” or something else with a festive aspect, he said.

The assistant director said there is a long hill to the property and there could be a possibility of working that onto the name of the park.

A kiosk involving some of telephone poles so that the former site can still be recognized is another possibility in retaining memories of the original park, he said.

The first phase of the work – to begin in spring 2018 – is funded, said Pain. He said doing work piecemeal is probably the only way the project can be handled.

He wants to make the park more accessible to everyone. He is interested in taking down a center island at the park entrance and replacing it with as many as 60 more parking spaces without expanding the existing asphalt. Only 15 to 20 cars can park in space outside the gate now.

Much of what happens from there on in future improvements will be done with input from local officials and the general public. No one present disagreed with the park superintendent’s description of the entrance to the park presently being “quite unsightly.” He wants to initially focus on improving that area by removal dilapidated telephone poles, adding more parking than is presently available and adding a new sign. It was suggested that some of the vintage poles be arranged in a kiosk in recognition of the former site.

The park superintendent is looking to bring in familiar special events with some new ones added. He said he can work in township events there too.

Mayor Bettina Bieri, Council President Luciano (Lou) Signarino and Administrator Antoinette Battaglia met in May with Trontis and Pain. Next, the two state representatives met in June with West Milford Engineering Department representative Eric Miller. They said Miller was “very accommodating and full of ideas.”

After meetings are held to get public input the state will do a feasibility study, using stakeholder comments in coming up with a visual concept of how the park could look in the future.

“The big challenge for us is the funding source,” said Trontis. “Your engineering division representative (Miller) mentioned (in- house) things he could do to help us.”

Trontis noted that there is still $400 million in 2014 Green Acres money standing in the hopper. He said the state could hire a professional to come up with a Master Plan, after taking comments from the mayor and council and public under consideration.

Answering Township Administrator Antoinette Battaglia’s concern as to whether a Master Plan might become a document collecting dust on a shelf, Trontis admitted this is as a possibility – but he also said that without it there would be nowhere to go, he said.

Councilman Luciano (Lou) Signorino mentioned that the township’s Heritage Committee and Historic Preservation Committee will certainly want to have input. Trontis assured him that all input from these and other stakeholders will be heard and considered.

The mayor asked what will become of existing hiking and biking trails already built by volunteers. Pain said they will remain in place -- with the possibility of new trails being added.

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