Andre Sayegh Special to the USA TODAY NETWORK

Improving our parks and fields was a plank in my platform during the mayoral campaign and is an initiative that my administration is passionately pursuing. That’s why one of the hardest parts of my pandemic response was issuing an executive order shutting down all of the parks and fields. However, now that our number of positive COVID-19 cases has dropped precipitously, we are resuming our ambitious efforts to revive and restore our recreational spaces.

Two years ago I joined the National Recreation and Park Association’s 10 Minute Walk Campaign. This initiative is a national effort dedicated to increasing access to safe, quality parks and green spaces within a 10-minute walk from residents’ homes. As a part of this national movement, we immediately applied for a $40,000 grant to fund the development of a parks and fields vision plan. We were awarded the money and hired a renowned expert to help us create a long-overdue map for our parks and recreation spaces. Our goal is to release the plan by the end of this year.

Partnerships are essential in our pursuit of improving parks and fields. We have allies in Congress, in Trenton, in Passaic County government and on the city council who share our vision. Moreover, our aforementioned friends have also been helpful with obtaining funds to earmark for improvement.

Federal funding is being used for the $1 million renovation of Lou Costello Park, which will include the first playground in Paterson to accommodate children with autism. We are also using federal dollars procured through the advocacy of Rep. Bill Pascrell to revitalize Bear Trap Park, which not only fell into disrepair but also became a destination for undesirable activity.

Our student athletes deserve more modern locker and weight rooms. Therefore, we are using over $1 million in federal grant funding to fix our fieldhouse which we recently renamed in honor of Dr. Gerald Glisson, the popular principal at Eastside High School who died after contracting COIVD-19.

Through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection we landed not one but two Green Acres grants. The first award is for $1 million and will allow us to develop the Vista Park near the Great Falls. The second award is for $76,284 and will afford us an opportunity to finally improve the forlorn trail along the Valley of the Rocks adjacent to Hinchliffe Stadium.

Speaking of Hinchliffe Stadium, we are using more than $40 million in state tax credits to resurrect the historic treasure that has been fallow for far too long. With the support of our 35th legislative delegation, we will not only give residents a first-class field but we will also provide America an example of Paterson’s pivotal role in the pursuit of social justice.

To the credit of our partners at the county and on the Board of Chosen Freeholders, we have received support for our Open Space applications to restore the Ivanhoe House near the Great Falls National Park and to improve the pedestrian pathways at Eastside Park.

Since we are on the subject of Eastside Park, I believe it would behoove the city to explore the possibility of entering an agreement to include both Eastside and Westside Parks in the Passaic County Park System. The city council has introduced a resolution requesting my administration to engage our county partners and it is practical especially since we have been collaborating with the county on the issue of parks and other items for the last two years. Moreover, a city our size should have a county park within our city’s confines.

Our city council has also prioritized our parks. The governing body has approved $1 million to improve Buckley Park and $1 million to improve Brandeis Field. On the heels of those renovations, the Council has approved a Capital Budget Plan which would resuscitate two additional recreational spaces: Putnam Oval and Commons Field.

Besides the support of government officials, we also need volunteers who are passionate about parks to pitch in. Thus, we created the Friends of Paterson Parks Board and retooled the Parks and Recreation Commission. In addition, my Mayor’s Wellness Campaign has recruited individuals who are adamant about the value of physical activity.

After we defeat the virus, our parks and fields should be flooded with families. If we have learned anything during this pandemic, it is that we must focus on our health and maintain active lifestyles. Partnering and prioritizing will help Paterson improve our parks and help Paterson residents live longer and stronger.

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