Creating Musconetcong Island Park
Making safer public access to enjoy the river
Astride the Old Main Street Bridge on Asbury-West Portal Road in Bethlehem Township, Hunterdon County, is a quarter acre island in the Musconetcong River. The island contains a former mill building donated by Asbury Carbons to the Musconetcong Watershed Association in 1999. The building is abandoned, and while there is a stairway to the island, public access has been barred by a guardrail due to safety concerns. The MWA has received funds from the NJ Green Acres Program, the National Park Foundation, and Coca Cola Foundation to remove this abandoned building, to allow the public access to the island for recreation. The area is a favorite spot for fishing, swimming and kayaking, and it is connected to the Asbury Historic District and Bethlehem Township by a sidewalk.
The two-story concrete block building was the former Laboratory for the Asbury Graphite Mill and was constructed between 1925 and 1940 (Asbury Historic District Nomination Form, 1993). It was built on top of the foundation of a woolen factory that was destroyed by a fire in 1881. Graphite is an inert, non-toxic mineral used for lubrication and other purposes. Graphite refining began in Asbury in 1895 when Harry M. Riddle purchased the existing mills and converted them to process this niche mineral (Asbury Graphite History). Today, Asbury Carbons is a fourth generation family business and one of the few original milling businesses still operating along the Musconetcong River. The Laboratory was abandoned in the late 1970's and lacks modern plumbing and flooded frequently.
Creating future green space
Thanks to a public referendum, the New Jersey Green Acres Program became able to fund stewardship projects that would increase public access for recreation on land owned by the public and private entities, like MWA. MWA was awarded a grant from this new Green Acres funding in 2017 and secured matching funds in 2018 from the National Park Foundation as part of a special Wild & Scenic Rivers 50th Anniversary funding round, supported by the Coca Cola Foundation. In early 2018, MWA received permission from the NJ State Historic Preservation Council for the building's demolition, with a provision to photo document the building interior and exterior, conduct an oral history project recording experiences of those who worked in the Laboratory and Graphite Mill, and install an interpretative sign sharing the history of the area. The demolition is expected to begin in July 2019. To kick-off the project, MWA hosted a Golden Sledgehammer event. For project updates, visit our Facebook page.
Pictured (From Left to Right): Mary Paist-Goldman, MWA Board of Directors; Bill Gierke, MWA Board of Directors; Mayor Jeff DeAngelis, Franklin Township (Warren County); Brandee Chapman, NJ Green Acres Program; Alan Hunt, MWA Executive Director; Freeholder Susan Soloway, Hunterdon County; Mayor Paul Muir, Bethlehem Township (Hunterdon County)
Develop engineering plans and secure permits
Demolish the building, without disturbing the area outside of the building's footprint
Reconstruct stairway to provide safe, code-complient access
Repair the existing utility pole lighting
Clean up the site and remove invasive plants
Install an interpretative sign of the area's history
Completed Musconetcong Island Park rendering courtesy of Andrew Curtis, MWA Volunteer
This project is also part of "Love Your Park", a pilot initiative of the National Park Foundation to develop volunteers to "adopt" and care for areas within the National Park System. While the Musconetcong Island Park is privately-owned, the Musconetcong River is a National Wild & Scenic River, and part of the National Wild & Scenic River system overseen by the National Park Service. If you would like to volunteer to help with the project, want to learn more about the Musconetcong Island Park, or want to donate to support the effort, please contact the MWA: (908) 537-7060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.