When I posed this question to my friends I’d been out of the country for three weeks. I’d missed the Dean Gaymon tragedy in Newark, and the ensuing stories about sex-trolling and other illicit activity in this 360-acre Essex County Park. But a walker must walk – and so I set out at 11 a.m. on Friday the 13th with a map, my big dog, and my son John – a 16-year-old black belt who’s ripped, and knows it.
We entered the north end of the park at Franklin Avenue and drove south, passed the Cherry Blossom Center, to the Steven N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex, where we parked and headed toward the lake. So far, so good. It was sunny, we saw women walking in pairs, passed a mother and young daughter on the footpath, saw a few cyclists on the road, and spotted a very elderly couple helping one another up a steep incline. John spotted empty silver blunt wrappers, little plastic drug packs, trashed lighters and other paraphernalia underfoot, but that was the only evidence of a debauched nightlife apparently blazed away with daylight.
As we crossed Park Street, the Branch Brook Lake widened. A posted sign told us the lake is stocked with trout each summer and Philip, with fishing rod in hand, said he’s been catching sunnies, bass, turtles, and catfish. “The hardest things to catch are carp,” he said. He had on a muscle-tee shirt, and flashed a bright smile. “We keep coming back trying to catch one of those.”
“But would you tell your daughter it’s safe to walk there?” I asked Kevin Lynch of the Essex County Sheriff’s office public information office later that day.
“I’m sure I would and I’m sure the sheriff would say the same thing,” Lynch said. “That it’s safe.”
Lynch couldn’t give me any crime statistics off-hand, and there were no sheriff or police cars in evidence on the day of our walk. So: Is Branch Brook Park safe? It wasn’t safe for Dean Gaymon. But my son and I did just fine, and I’d go back again…with the dog.
Laurie Lico Albanese is a walker, blogger, and writer. She began a year-long walking project October 1, 2009: to walk an hour every day for a year, to mark her 50th year. With this post, she begins a series of posts for Baristanet. You can follow her regular blog, My Big Walk, including her son’s take on the Branch Brook Park stroll, here.