Skillman Park

A SOMERSET COUNTY PARK

Link to County Parks System webpage

DIRECTIONS:

From North

Take Route 206 south to County Route 601 (Belle Mead-Blawenburg Road).  Make a right onto Route 601 and take it for approximately 4.9 miles.  Just past Montgomery High School on the right, make a left onto Main Boulevard where you will enter Skillman Park.  Take Main Boulevard through the park, past Village Elementary School. 

From South

Take Route 206 north to County Route 518 (Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike).  Make a left onto Route 518 and take it approximately 2.9 miles to County Route 601 in the Village of Blawenberg.  Make a right onto Route 601 and take it approximately 1/2 mile to Main Boulevard.  Make a right onto Main Boulevard where you will enter Skillman Park.  Take Main Boulevard through the park, past Village Elementary School. 

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SkillmanParkSignSmallSkillman Park is an area of open space in the Skillman section of Montgomery Township which is owned by Somerset County and maintained by the Somerset County Parks Department. In April 2015 a ribbon cutting ceremony was held by County officials to celebrate the Park’s opening. It is located north of Rt. 518, south of Skillman Road, east of Rt. 601, and west of Burnt Hill Road. The main entrance is on Rt. 601, across from Montgomery High School. There is a second entrance on Burnt Hill Road. At the property’s center is the Village Elementary School, 100 Main Blvd., a public school on 12 acres.

County crews and contractors have created an attractive passive recreation-focused park, on lands which have been restored from a variety of former uses (see history below).  Amenities include a paved loop trail for biking and walking, picnic areas, community event areas, a dog park, trails through natural areas, kiosks, and parking.

A 2.2-mile, 12-foot-wide, paved multi-use loop trail has been built along much of the former facility’s road and driveway network. New fencing, signage and landscaping welcome visitors at the park entrances. Much of the breathtaking, tree-lined road layout, designed by noted landscape architect and engineer Charles W. Leavitt in 1901, has been preserved. Old paving was removed so that the center of Larocque Circle is now open lawn with a small parking area, often used for events, such as the annual Run with Rotary.  Main Boulevard has been repaved and sufficient parking has been added or improved in four convenient locations.

Much of Skillman Park remains a natural setting. Certain passive recreation areas within the park are being restored for the creation of forest habitat through proper planting and maintenance practices. Buffers are maintained along stream corridors for wildlife use and to improve water quality.  An overlook area along the Rock Brook provides a view to wetlands and often to wading birds feeding below.

History of Property

This 256 acre parcel, one of the largest open parcels in the area, is located in the Skillman section of Montgomery Township, in the center of western Montgomery. Much of the property is field or woodland open space. Rock Brook and its tributaries are surface water features of the property. The parcel is surrounded on two sides by the Selody Sod Farm and Hunter Farms. The Township purchased the property from the State of New Jersey in 2007, and after remediation of the site, sold it to Somerset County in 2011 to create the park.  At the time of purchase from the State, Montgomery Twp. also purchased and then upgraded for further use, an adjacent wastewater treatment facility on 7 acres located off Burnt Hill Road behind the State-owned Skillman Dairy Farm.

The property originally consisted of six large farms. These lands were purchased by the State of New Jersey for the establishment in 1898 of the “New Jersey State Village for Epileptics” at Skillman, during a time when there was no known treatment for epilepsy. The village lay-out was designed by noted Landscape Architect/Engineer Charles W. Leavitt in 1901. For many years it operated as a self-contained “town” that consisted of hospitals, housing, farms, maintenance areas, schools, a theater, a power plant, a wastewater treatment facility, cemeteries, and an on-site landfill. It was one of the first such facilities in the United States.

In the mid-twentieth century, with the discovery of medicines for treatment of epilepsy, the facility’s focus shifted and in 1952 it became the New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute, a research center for the treatment of epilepsy, mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism.  From 1975  until 1998, the property was the “North Princeton Developmental Center” or NPDC, a New Jersey Department of Human Services’ residential facility for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities.

In 2007 the Township of Montgomery purchased the now inactive facility/property and the adjoining wastewater treatment facility from the State of New Jersey. In acknowledgement of its unique early history, Montgomery Twp. referred to the property as “Skillman Village”, and took on all necessary remediation issues, while plans for mixed-use redevelopment were being formulated.

Until 2007 there remained over 100 State buildings on the property, mostly in substandard, unsafe, unsanitary, dilapidated and/or obsolescent condition. The property was essentially a brownsfield, from an environmental perspective. Ninety-two of these buildings were abated and demolished in the summer of 2007 by the Township of Montgomery. The few remaining buildings were boarded up while being considered for potential reuse. At the same time, efforts were undertaken to remediate environmental conditions at the site. All asbestos wrapped steampipes throughout the property, part of the original facilities’ heating system, were removed by fall 2008. While the environmental clean-up work was completed, groundwater monitoring continues. The property was thoroughly remediated and brought into compliance with applicable laws and regulations, ultimately resulting in issuance of a letter of “No Further Action” by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

The Township invited proposals from developers for ambitious redevelopment plans in 2009. Due to the economic downturn, none of the handful of short-listed developers were able to take on the project at that time. Township leadership determined that they should consider other uses for the property.

The Township and Somerset County worked on developing terms for the transfer of ownership of the property and plans for its reuse as a passive recreation county park throughout 2010 and arrived at a final agreement in 2011. The remaining derelict buildings from the property’s days as North Princeton Developmental Center were remediated and removed in Summer 2011. The actual property closing transaction between Montgomery Township and Somerset County occurred on October 25, 2011. The purchase was for  $15.9 million. This did not include the 7 acre wastewater treatment plant property or another 7 acres of subdivided parcels including the Pine Knolls and Maplewood houses, which remain. Unfortunately a fire destroyed Maplewood, the last remaining of the three farm houses, in the fall of 2011. Unsalvageable remnants were raized by the Township’s contractor in the summer of 2012. The Board of Education raized the last remaining NPDC brick building, known as the “Kay Building,” on their property around the same time.

A Planning Committee began meeting in spring 2012 to work out the park development details for Skillman Park. This Committee includes three Montgomery residents and three County representatives. The Skillman Park Planning Committee, tasked with developing a comprehensive public access plan for the 247-acre park, included Montgomery Township residents Lysa Wilson and Emad AbouSabé, Township Open Space Committee member Clem Fiori, then Somerset County Freeholder Director Director Mark Caliguire, and County Administrator Michael J. Amorosa. The County made much needed improvements to upkeep the trees and grounds on-site. Parking, kiosks, and a 2.2 mile loop trails were complete, as were a dog park, overlook, and other passive recreation amenities. Main Boulevard, which is a public road that transects the park, has been repaved.  The official park grand opening was held in April, 2015.