Wild Creatures Are Welcome at This Former Clean-Water Plant in New Jersey

The Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority converts the site of a decommissioned wastewater treatment plant into a park and wildlife preserve.

Wild Creatures Are Welcome at This Former Clean-Water Plant in New Jersey

A wood-chip-covered trail meanders through the preserve, giving visitors access to viewing areas.

Converting a decommissioned wastewater treatment facility into a nature preserve has been a winner for everyone, says Andy Kricun, executive director and chief engineer of Camden County (New Jersey) Municipal Utilities Authority.

“The neighborhood near the preserve, all the citizens of Camden, the municipal authority itself, and the environment have all been winners in this,” Kricun says. The 40-acre site on the banks of the Delaware River was once home to an activated sludge facility built in 1948 and expanded to 10 mgd capacity. Since its decommissioning in 1990, it had become a dumping spot for old tires, rubbish and burnt-out automobiles.

Today it hosts anyone who wants to visit the city’s last remaining forested area. Named Cramer Hill Nature Preserve, the park has a 15-foot-wide, wood-chip-surfaced walking trail that meanders for more than a mile past wetlands, bald eagle nests and foraging areas, a fishpond, and other tranquil spots leading to the river’s back channel.

Part of the picture

Restoration of the tidal wetland and creation of the fishpond were part of the authority’s $1 million conversion project, which began in 2007. Installation of lighting, signage, security cameras and a new fence last summer completed the project, now open to the public. A ribbon-cutting ceremony in September drew citizens and dignitaries.

With a view of the city of Philadelphia, the preserve overlooks one of Camden’s historical landmarks, Petty Island, the former site of an oil refinery. The island is undergoing renewal as a public park and environmental learning center.

Both sites provide habitat for a variety of wildlife, such as deer, raccoon and opossum. Ducks, falcons and osprey also call the area home. Migrating geese and many songbirds take shelter in the area. Future plans include a dock at the end of the trail for canoeists and kayakers, and a pedestrian footbridge across the channel between the two parks. “The whole idea is to improve the quality of life in the neighborhoods and restore access to the Delaware River that had been cut off by industrial development,” Kricun says.

Creating a positive

The seeds of Kricun’s vision for the nature preserve were planted in the 1980s when a retiring city planner told him, “You know, someday you should make a park out of this place.” That thought turned to action when the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection developed a master plan to remediate old industrial sites and create sustainable green space. 

“The thought was: How do you protect the wetlands and the bald eagle foraging areas, soak up the rainwater so there is no runoff into the river, and turn it into a positive for the neighborhood?” Kricun says. “We wanted to change it from being an eyesore so that people would stop seeing it as a vacant lot and a nuisance.”  

The city worked with the DEP to clean up the area and restore the soil. Funding came from a 50 percent grant and low-interest loan from the state’s Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program, which had been established as part of the master plan.

The last vestige of the decommissioned facility, called the Baldwin’s Run plant, is a converted settling pond that now is a combined sewer overflow regulator and outfall, fitted with 14 nets that capture solids. The alternative would have been to pump the combined flow 12 miles to the authority’s Delaware No. 1 Water Pollution Control Facility, an 80 mgd secondary pure oxygen activated sludge treatment plant.

Excellence recognized

“Citizens now have direct access to the river and can see a sunset and enjoy the benefits of the nature preserve,” Kricun says. “But it’s not just aesthetics. It’s that the green space will help with stormwater runoff and mitigate flooding that has long plagued the Cramer Hill neighborhood.” 

Kricun is proud of the authority’s accomplishments, including induction into the Leading Utilities of the World network in 2017 as a community service champion. Kricun says, “We were recognized as exceptional for not only fulfilling our mission of being a water steward, but also for our core value of looking for opportunities to make a difference in the city.”


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