As the township continues its transition from the old to the new the Mayor and Council took Tuesday night to meet away from their regular chambers.
At Tuesday's meeting credit was given to the Lake Restoration and Wildlife Committee for their work at during a presentation by Al Sauer, one of the primary members.
Read by Township Manager Helene Schlegel, the park was described in the presentation as "the end result of a dream that a few dedicated people had," adding, "people who had the initiative, the knowledge and the creative ability to not only salvage a public facility that was dying of neglect, but they would and did offer a fresh new design for its rebirth."
Sauer said when they first tackled Echo Lake Park there was a lot of work to be done. "At that point in time the lake was a product of political neglect in conjunction with recreational planners and advisors who failed to plan or advise," he said.
At that time he said the lake was just three feet deep and faced several problems including something known as Fan Wart and Swamp Loosestrife. "The events that were taking place within the waters of Echo Lake could best be described as the final stages of eutrophication," he said. "In laymen's terms this means that the lake was entering into its final stages of becoming a swamp."
Following a presentation and acceptance of a plan by the council at the time, Sauer said he and fellow committee members including Ed Runyan got to work. "I suddenly became a draftsman and a land use planner for a project that would prove to be the first of its kind in our township."
Since that time Sauer said he has seen the park gain in popularity and more work put into maintaining one of the natural attractions of the township. That includes having the lake stocked by the New Jersey Bureau of Fresh Water Fisheries each spring with more than three thousand trout. He said the state also gives them between 20 to 30 fish in the five to seven pound range.
Fishing has become a key part of the park in the township including an annual children's fishing contest where trout and bass provided by the Lake Restoration and Wildlife Management Committee are routinely hooked by young competitors.
Contributions from the state and the township have helped, but Sauer said it has also been individual contributions that have helped the park to thrive. "The true nature of this park is reflected in its donations," he said. That includes the donation of a floating fishing pier for handicapped fishermen, a tot lot and the popular gazebo at the park.
Calling Echo Lake "different from our other recreation areas," Sauer said the work is not done for the park. "It is also the inherited duty and obligation of not only this council, but future councils to show their respect for the people who so willingly donated their time and money to restore this park."
He added, "As long as the community minded organizations like the boy scouts and girl scouts exist, this park will truly have a guardian angel watching over it."
Sauer said he was proud of the work his committee did that allowed the council to meet at the park. "It was the Echo Lake Restoration committee that proved to be the very medicine that was needed to change this park from a vandalized and trash laden facility into what could be best described as a park that never would have been."
That would have happened, he said, "If a few individuals hadn't had the foresight to realize that what was being wasted was not only a lake, but an entire park system, from its nature trail, to its rustic wooden bridge to our custom designed pavilion."
The work the committee did was well worth it, he said. "Echo Lake Park is a gem, a gem that only needed to (be) polished and placed in a new setting, to show its true value."
Councilman Juan Malave who had served on the council prior to this term said he did not believe the park had been "neglected," but admitted that more work could have been done. "Because of the amount of interest that we had in the park we were not paying as much attention to it as we should have," he said.
Malave said he could remember coming to the park a decade ago and seeing "all kinds of debris," including benches that had been thrown into the lake strewn about. He said he was glad to see how far it had come since then.
Councilman Rob Nicastro said he was glad to see positive attention focused on the park. "We wanted to showcase one of our crown jewels in Echo Lake Park," he said.
With more awareness the council members said they hoped to see the park used more by local residents. Part of that effort includes a recent move by the council to . "This and many other parks inside the township are definitely under utilized," Malave said. "We wanted to get the word out to the people of Howell township to bring your family out here."
Whether it is for a barbecue, to go fishing on the lake or just play on the playground Malave said there is plenty for residents to enjoy at the park.
Malave also said he was glad to see the council meeting outside its regular chambers. "When I was elected the first time, we had a theme that we would bring government to you," he said.
That meant holding meetings anywhere from the local schools to firehouses and he said Echo Lake was a continuation of that idea. "It was a great idea to have the meeting here," he said. "I wish the weather would have been nicer but we can't control that."