Essex County Parks

Day 337

MyBigWalk Takes on Branch Brook Park

Last week I walked in Branch Brook Park in Newark — the scene of three deaths in as many years — for my debut on our local news e-zine,  BARISTANET. “Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park?” drew 47 comments, many of them snarky, angry, and downright insulting. A few were kind and insightful, but they were overshadowed  by the mockery!

My piece began earnestly enough….

Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park? When I posed this question to my friends I’d been out of the country for three weeks. I’d missed the Dean Gaymon tragedy in Newark, and the ensuing stories about sex-trolling and other illicit activity in this 360-acre Essex County Park.  But a walker must walk – and so I set out at 11 a.m. on Friday the 13th with a map, my big dog, and my son John – a 16-year-old black belt who’s ripped, and knows it…

…but the Baristanet comments took aim from the get-go. Here are two of my favorites:

from scottaleh: “What a God-awful post! Is the premise supposed to be that, because Dean Gaymon was shot by police, anybody walking in Branch Brook Park is in danger of the same? Is the premise supposed to be that this beautiful park is dangerous to anyone walking at 11am on a summer day because it’s in Newark? And what the heck is the relevance of Route 280 and the Basilica being nearby? BTW, anyone who really wants to see drug paraphenalia (and therefore, “debauched nightlife,” I guess) can find it in Andersen Park, our local source for drugs. Yeesh.”

From croiagusanam: “But I know that the park is safe. I walked there every day after my month-long sojourn in Katmandu, accompanied only by my pedigreed Lithuanian bloodhound and my 16 year old daughter, who is SMOKIN’ HOT and knows it. We encountered actual people, doing actual things. I was flabbergasted. I asked Sheriff Lynch if he thought the place was safe. He couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. What a letch! Anyway, I’ll be posting every week now, so you can follow my adventures and those of my daughter (I’ll include some pix as well!).”


Never one to be daunted by a few crass remarks or unkind words, I returned to BARISTAVILLE last week, taking a few friends to the uber-suburban borough of Essex Fells and making as much noise as we could. Is Essex Fells safer than Newark? Is it more fun to walk in a dicey Newark park or a quiet-as-a-cemetary suburban enclave?

You can check out the original post, and YESTERDAY’S RESPONSE on Baristanet. And don’t be afraid to leave a comment there — God knows, everybody else felt absolutely fine about it!


Branch Brook Park Lake

Day 318

Today’s (pretty damn witty) GUEST POST is from my son, John Albanese. He was kind enough to walk with me in Branch Brook Park on Friday the 13th to help with my first weekly MyBigWalk-BARISTANET feature.  Here’s how the walk looked through his 16-year-old eyes….

My mother was the gal with the plan. A pleasant scoping of Branch Brook Park in Newark, notorious for drug deals, prostitution, and a recent fatal shooting. We left slightly later than intended due to my sister’s chaotic cooking, and tensions were running high. Phones were ringing from every direction, and we we unclear as to where exactly we were going.

Needless to say the gal had a solution. She appointed me the navigator. I reached for the GPS but before I grabbed it she had thrust a 75-page map into my lap.

My confidence plummeted. Being a child of the 21st Century, asking me to read a map is comparable to asking your grandmother to text you her secret pie recipe. My mother spent several uneasy minutes outlining how to use a map, and our course was eventually set.

A pleasant surprise awaited us when we entered the park. It was green, and gigantic. We were led to the parking lot by a long twisty road along the lake. The second we got out of the car it all became so simple. The only task in front of us was to walk and observe. The path was clear and everything seemed peaceful. This sensation was reinforced bychildren walking with their mothers, fishermen eager to talk about their recent catch, and an elderly couple sitting

The gal took a picture of this stuff!?

by the lake. Other than the occasional scattered paraphernalia — presumably from after dark activity — the park did not display any signs of its infamous reputation.

Our walk was accompanied by the view of an enormous church. We braved a walk in Newark and discovered that we were looking at Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the fifth largest cathedral in the country. Branch Brook Park is clearly a neglected treasure and a perfect place to walk. My only grievance is that in order to walk there and experience the sanctuary the park offers, many will have to endure the pressure of driving to Newark– and maybe even of reading a map.

Day 211

I’ve been walking for more than 200 days and I’ve never walked the same way twice. I’ve been walking with my heart open and my eyes scanning the scenery while Sarah, my canine companion,  senses all changes in her surroundings by sticking out her tongue and looking very alert.

Yet we still turned the corner in our neighborhood park yesterday  — the day we went out just before the sky filled with thunder and clouds as quick as you can say ZEUS! — and discovered a lovely new garden / walkway that was not there last year.

How’d the parks and rec guys get these stones in and these flowers planted in the worst winter we’ve had in years?

You know what they say in New York City: If you see something, say something. If you see anything new and unusual in your neck of the woods, take a photo and drop me a line

Day 101

Judith Lindbergh has a patch of land in South Mountain Reservation that she visits every morning. After packing her young sons up for school, Judith walks up the hill from her house in West Orange, sends the boys in to their classrooms, and climbs further uphill to the appropriately named Walker Road. From there she enters a corner of the reservation she’s come to know intimately, eventually making her way to the  roughly 1500 square foot of fenced-off forest she and a friend, along with their families, have committed to preserving, restoring, and protecting in conjunction with the South Mountain Conservancy.

Snow was falling gently Friday morning as Judith led me to her patch of land. Trying not to huff and puff too heavily (I’m a daily walker, too!) I tromped up the hill and into the woods where  she showed me the scaly looking rock for which nearby Turtle Back Zoo is named, used some really impressive words to explain an icy ridge overlooking Northfield Avenue, and led us to her patch of land.

The walk was beautiful, peaceful, and vigorous — one more walk that shows me, yet again, there’s beauty, adventure, and a lot to see and learn right here in my own backyard. And in Judith’s patch of yard, too.

So here’s your Monday Morning Motivator: take a page from Judith’s book…walk your kids to school, and just keep going! Put on your hiking boots and don’t look back until your hour is done. Take an interest in your local forest preserve, park plans, trail restoration projects, and flower gardens. Plant a tree, weed a lot, pick up litter.  You can read more about Judith’s commitment to trees, the reservation, and the county’s reforestation efforts in the Maplewood Patch, where she is a regular contributor.

Day 95

Cold?! You think this is cold?!

Well so do I.

In fact it is g#@?*amned FREEZING. Worse than freezing, it was 19 degrees without the windchill Sunday morning.  It was flurrying. And a cold wind was whipping across the small lake in Verona Park.

Actually the temperature was fine as long as you had on long underwear, many layers, a fur hat from Siberia, and no exposed skin.

And then, it was sort of…exciting.

With heaven as my witness (there was no one ELSE out with me when I left the house) I actually stepped off my front porch, looked up at the skeletal tree branches reaching across the silvery sky, felt the wind shiver around me, and exclaimed, “It’s gorgeous out!”

I did. I swear it.

And then I said (to myself) “are you nuts? It’s freezing.”

It was both freezing and gorgeous. In a cold, Ice Princess, Nordic, Viking-wrapped-in-fur sort of way.

Fortunately I had MyBigWalker Brave Betty waiting at Verona Park to walk through the wind with me. Because otherwise I might have gone back inside and waited for a warmer day. Like one in May or June.

So that’s my Monday Morning Motivation Tip: Meet a Friend. Be sure she’s waiting for you in the cold, so you have no choice but to go out and save her join her!

Day 62

I’m pretty sure the weird coconut-shelly things Pam and I found on the forest floor yesterday are indigenous to New Jersey. But what the heck are they? And how can I be sure they’re not…

  • Evidence of a pod invasion from outer space?
  • Archeological artifacts from the Lost Tiki Bar of Essex?
  • Lenape Indian cannonballs?
  • Scat droppings of a large carnivorous coniferous creature?

I’d like to hear your thoughts: what the hell are these things  and where did they come from? What are they good for? And is it okay if I use one for a cup to hold my pencils…or to brush my teeth?

Contest Rules As Follows:

  1. Identify this object
  2. Tell me where it comes from
  3. Propose a creative way to use it
  4. Or write a little story about it
  5. And make me laugh

Post your replies in the “Comments” box below. This is a FULLY TRANSPARENT and COMPLETELY NON-DEMOCRATIC contest. In other words, I pick the winner myself. And I send you a signed copy of The Miracles of Prato.  Or, if you insist, I can send you a copy of Pam’s book, How Not to Act Old. (Hers is funnier, but mine costs more!) 

A winner will be announced by Friday. So put on your thinking cap. And don’t let the pod people keep you from revealing what you know…or what you can imagine!

Day 60

Henry David Thoreau (yes, he of Walden Pond) is among the many writers, philosophers, and painters who found solace and creative inspiration walking in the woods.

In his treatise, Walking, delivered to an audience in 1851, Thoreau urged others to follow his footsteps, while lamenting that only the most ennobled few knew how to properly pursue what he thought of as the lost art of venturing forth from home on a natural expedition that might last for days.

Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see, he said.

My friend Pam and I went out into the forest today.  Here’s the strange country we found:

When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods; Thoreau said. what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or mall?

Here’s a possibility: 

Finally, Thoreau urged his fellow saunterers to go boldly on each walk in the spirit of undying adventure. Pam and I did:

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