November 04, 1999
Residents can watch ship move up river in several area parks
By KIM MULFORD
If you want to see the USS New Jersey as it is towed up the Delaware River, visit one of the riverside parks in Salem or Gloucester counties. The ship is tentatively expected to arrive Nov. 11, Veterans Day. But whenever it gets here, the two best locations are Red Bank Battlefield in National Park and Fort Mott State Park in Pennsville, Salem County.
Welcoming festivities are planned for Red Bank Battlefield, situated almost directly across the river from where the most decorated battleship in the U.S. Navy will be temporarily berthed.
Several small public parks along the river offer free parking and a spot to see the ship as it drifts northward, but no organized activities are planned at these locations.
Expect large crowds and long lines of traffic, said Rod Groff, Gloucester County's director of parks and recreation. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people are expected at Red Bank Battlefield to see the historic ship return to its birthplace.
Red Bank Battlefield will open at dawn.
“The problem we have is parking,” Groff said. Car pooling is strongly suggested.
Only 150 spaces are available at Red Bank, and those will be reserved for handicapped parking. Shuttle buses will run between the park and other parking areas along Hessian Avenue, and on Grove Street in West Deptford. The shuttle service, parking and admission to the park are free.
Angelo Romeo, director of veterans affairs for Gloucester County, said officials are concerned about gridlock, especially since the park only has one way in and one way out.
“People could easily be (parked) 20 to 30 blocks away,” Romeo said. “Can you imagine when it's over and everyone wants to leave at once? We just want veterans and friends and family to know: Be prepared for long delays.”
Gloucester County freeholders are planning to honor veterans and provide them a large tent and refreshments. Battleship memorabilia and a 9-foot silhouette of the battleship will be displayed. Three different bands are expected to play for
the crowds. Small flags may be handed out to the public as well.
Food vendors will be available, and visitors may bring in food and lawn chairs.
“We're going to try to make it a really nice day,” Groff said.
Gloucester County Freeholder Helene Reed said the park is the “best place in the county” to see the ship dock.
“We are having a party,” she said.
The county clerk will also be available to help veterans register with their discharge forms and other paperwork, and the county surrogate will give out information about free programs for veterans. A medical tent will be set up in case of emergencies.
Tug boats bearing a welcome banner are coming down from Camden County, along with a contingent of officials to welcome the ship.
Camden County Freeholder Pat Jones said her county's plans to welcome the battleship have not been finalized. The main activities will take place at Red Bank Battlefield since the ship will not come up the river far enough to allow a riverfront ceremony in Camden County.
Jones is a co-founder of the Home Port Alliance, a nonprofit group that is seeking Navy approval to dock the ship at the Camden waterfront as a floating museum. Jones said she hopes a large number of boats from Camden County will be on the river to greet the ship.
“Everybody's excited,” Jones said. “This has been a real regional push.”
Elsewhere around the region
West Deptford: No sites along the river will be open in West Deptford, but there will be shuttle buses running back and forth between Red Bank and parking areas along Grove Street, off Exit 21 of Interstate 295, said Greg Ley, director of the township's recreation department. Parking will be available at West Deptford Library, Thorofare fire hall and the Grove Street soccer fields.
Paulsboro: Lincoln Park at the end of Delaware Street will be open. Space for 30 to 40 cars is available, and no activities are planned. The Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse in Billingsport will be closed to the public that day.
Greenwich: Riverfront Park at the end of Floodgate Road will be open during the day, with limited parking. Visitors may use the park's observation deck. No activities are planned.
Salem County: Visitors may have to come early to see the ship pass by Fort Mott State Park in Pennsville, listed as one of the premier viewing spots. Picnic and restroom facilities are available, along with free parking. No activities are planned, but extra staff will be on hand to direct traffic.
Visitors can get “a real good look” at the battleship as it moves by the state park, said Florence McNelly, park superintendent.
“I'd still recommend binoculars, but we're fairly close,” she said.
Pennsville: Riverview Beach Park on Route 49 also offers restroom facilities and parking in two small lots. No activities are planned.
Etc.: The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is also coordinating a 19-gun salute by an artillery unit from the New Jersey Army National to hail the ship as it passes under the Delaware Memorial Bridge. A squadron of F-16 fighter planes from the New Jersey Air National Guard will fly over the battleship at about the same time.
Lt. Col. John Dwyer said times and places may change, but the artillery unit is scheduled to blast six cannons from the Penns Grove waterfront in Salem County.