ENVIRONMENT

Paterson Great Falls celebrates 10 years as a national park

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

Congressman Bill Pascrell, a Paterson native, joined several of the state’s top officials to celebrate the cementing of the Paterson Great Falls as a historical landmark 10 years ago.

“This is one of the proudest moments of my life,” Pascrell said. “Where we are standing was the engine that built America and then powered our nation into the industrial age. […] This is hallowed ground. This is America.”

“No other site in the nation better tells the story of America’s transformation from a rural agrarian society based in slavery to a modern economy based in freedom and opportunity for all. And a central figure in that story is Alexander Hamilton,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.

Paterson became America’s first planned industrial city after Hamilton realized they could channel the energy from the falls to create a manufacturing hub for the nation.

“They toiled over textiles, produced scores of paper, they poured hot steel and they welded iron. By the 1850s, Paterson wasn’t just an epicenter for locomotive manufacturing, it became a leading global producer of silk, and to this day Paterson is known as the Silk City,” Menendez said.

Since taking office, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh has made the revitalization of the falls a major priority of his administration.

“We’ve seen in other municipalities where you focus on restoring your parks, it helps economic development. Look at Central Park,” Sayegh said. “The property values are at its highest around that park in Manhattan. So in Paterson, we want to rise and we’re going to rise together. So we’re going to do it through the parks.”

And rise they must. Just a few blocks away you’ll find some of the worst poverty in the state — 29% of residents live below the poverty level, and the unemployment rate is nearly twice that of the state. Still, city leaders acknowledge it’s an uphill battle and they feel the falls are a good place to start.

“Across the bridge is a park called Mary Ellen Kramer Park. And that was really the first big project,” said Darren Boch, superintendent of the national park. “So we put a new viewing platform right at the falls so people could get very close and feel the spray of the Passaic on them. And then this park was rehabilitated just last year. This is Overlook Park, which is where we’re standing.”

The city is still in the planning phase of the next big projects. There will be a brand-new visitor’s center built on the foundation of a steam plant at the falls and a quarry lawn that’ll take up a portion of unused space. They hope the project will be completed by 2021. That’ll be the 10th anniversary of the start of the redevelopment at the Great Falls.