While some still refer to the “Park Commission,” the Essex County Park Commission which originated in 1895 is no longer in existence. In 1979 it was replaced by the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. No longer an autonomous body, the new Department incorporates the activities of the former Cultural and Heritage Commission and is an integral part of Essex County government under the County Executive and Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Like the former Commission, the Department is charged with overseeing the Essex County Park System, which serves the County’s population of over 780,000 and includes parkland in all of the County's 22 municipalities.
Within this system the Department maintains over 6000 acres of open space, including large undeveloped reservations and heavily used neighborhood parks which have an abundance of recreational facilities and over 140 buildings. The Department also operates Turtle Back Zoo, Richard J. Codey Arena at South Mountain, the Essex County Environmental Center and three golf courses.
The Division of Cultural Affairs provides special programs for seniors, children and their families. Annual events co-sponsored by the Division and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, include the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Summer Concert Series. An historical archive is maintained within the Department, which chronicles the rich history of the Essex County Park Commission and the evolution of the nation’s first county park system.
The Department of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs averages 200 employees, with the bulk of the workforce providing maintenance and support services to the various parks and facilities. The annual operating budget is approximately 10.5 million dollars. In the year 2000, the engineering function of the Parks Department was turned over the Department of Public Works. The two departments work together in the administration of park capital improvement projects. The Director of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs reports directly to the County Executive and the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Overview of Parks System |Park System Rules
Essex County Nature Photographers: http://ecnaturephotographers.org/