The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is donating $1 million towards the construction of a two-mile, rubberized walking path in Branch Brook Park, county officials announced last week.
“This is about people coming together. This is not about the present, but the future,” said former Gov. Thomas Kean, outgoing chairman of the board of the foundation.
The walking path loops around from a point near the Heller Parkway entrance to the park, itself near the Belleville-Newark border, and encompasses a section of the Lenape Trail. The donation -- made to the Branch Brook Park Alliance -- will be used to replace the stone walkway, which has eroded over time.
The new walkway will be accessible to those in wheelchairs and for baby strollers. The path will also be dotted with benches and other decorative features, officials said.
Speakers at a ceremony announcing the donation said the new walkway is part of an effort to foster exercise in a forested environment amid the bustle of the city.
“We will have an amenity that will be of great benefit to the health of our residents,” said Blonnie Watson of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The restoration of the park is “extremely important since obesity, a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes, is at epidemic proportions...Branch Brook Park was meant to serve the public health from its inception, and much of our work has been to provide facilities in the park that promote active living and routine physical exercise,” said Barbara Bell Coleman, co-chair of the Branch Brook Park Alliance Board of Trustees.
The track will also be paid for with a grant of up to $250,000 from Horizon Blue Cross-Blue Shield, as well as up to $250,000 in money from the Essex County Open Space Trust Fund, said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. Work is expected to begin in the summer and is to be finished by the end of the year, DiVincenzo also said.
“These projects, part of the ongoing comprehensive restoration of the park in its 116-year history, embody one of our key goals -- to promote the park as a place that will contribute to more healthful habits among residents of Essex County,” he added.