The Future of Liberty State Park

The Future of Liberty State Park


Alvira Vahora

Liberty State Park. A place where you can find people sitting in the grass, reading one of their favorite books. A place where children and their families make lasting memories as others ride their bikes and scooters down the path. A place where everyone is seen walking with a stroller or their dog against the backdrop of one of the most gorgeous skylines in America. The accessibility of this experience is being brought into question as individuals and organizations fight over ownership of Liberty State Park, or LSP.

LSP is the most famous public park in Jersey City, New Jersey. As of recently, there has been a series of protests and rallies against the privatization of LSP. The goal of these protests is to prevent private contractors from being able to obtain a lease of the park and use it for their business. This has been an ongoing issue for the past few years, but it was mainly being discussed back in June of 2020 in regards to the Liberty State Park Protection Act.

Last year, Governor Phil Murphy signed a $7.7 billion budget spending bill in accordance with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which was used to fund state operations for three months following the passage of the bill. It proposed various changes to the budget plan made in the previous month, leading to a number of concerns. This pushed state senators such as Loretta Weinburg to urge Murphy to veto provisions that were interpreted in order to allow bids for leasing parts of state parks. These provisions would have permitted for development of LSP where the Liberty National Golf Course has been looking to expand. The “backward nature of the effort” resulted in backlash that aided advocates in protecting the park and pushed the need to pass the Protection Act, which has been under consideration since January of 2019. It was sent to the committee in December of 2019 and crossed over in January of 2020. However, the first version of the bill failed to pass in the previous legislative session because legislators could not agree on the role of privatization. They voiced concerns about how the bill would cut off new investments in the park. The new version is now being pushed by Sam Pesin, the president of Friend of Liberty State Park, or FOSLP. It was passed by the Jersey City City Council with a vote of 8-1, but councilman Jermaine Robinson brought up concerns of lack of inclusiveness of his black counterparts. 

Returning to the present day, the desire to protect the park and officiate the Protection Act has not died down. On Saturday August 21, 2021, a group of protesters gathered on Morris Pesin Drive across from the golf course with their placards in favor of protecting the park, including Caven Point. It is considered an essential nesting area for wildlife, and it is also where Liberty National Golf Course wanted to install three holes for the golf course. In reference to the previous year, Daoud David Williams, a 77-year old Jersey City resident and member of the NAACP, expressed that, “It is disgusting that they want to racialize this.” Advocates have expressed concerns for the environment and for the community of families, bikers and citizens who enjoy what the park has to offer. Justin Hopkins, an attorney with a degree in environmental sciences, articulates, “The runoff from golf courses is horrifically toxic because of the high nitrogen content and pesticides they use.” 

This issue has led to protestors showing up in hundreds, demonstrating the importance that the park has to the people of Jersey City and New Jersey. Students, teachers, families, and senior citizens all share a passion in protecting the park. Ream Elkawanga, a student at McNair Academic High School, shared, “This issue is important to me because Liberty State Park is a public park that immigrants and low-income families go to. It’s the only park that people in Jersey City go to for holidays, for vacation, or just to enjoy summer. So I just feel like it would be messed up if rich people took it just to make a golf course.” On September 25, 2021, a rally was held at the park by FOLSP where they urged Gov. Murphy to pass the bill. Counter protestors who were backed by Paul Firemen, Liberty National owner and founder of Reebok, were present at the rally. They wore white shirts and were supportive of the golf course because they felt like it was in LSP’s best interest and could potentially attract more people to visit. Maria Nolan, a teacher at McNair recalled, “What surprised me most was the other rally. Apparently, there was this counter rally that I did not realize had convinced citizens of NJ that it was in their best interest to allow for the golf course to expand.” Despite the obstacles, many express their ambitions to continue to protect the park and its assets that they treasure. But for now, the future of LSP seems anything but liberating.