My Big Walk: Is it Safe to Walk in Branch Brook Park?

laurie albanese in bbpark.jpgWhen 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.”

Man and fishing rod. Woman and dog. It could’ve been a country moment anywhere. But to the east, Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart towered over the lake, and to the south, 280 was humming. 
“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.

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  1. It was safe for Dean Gaymon. The choices he made that day greatly increased the chances of a violent ending. There were hundreds of people in their at the same time that day that enjoyed the park and returned home safely. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Gaymon chose to go the path he did and as a result tarnishing the Sheriff’s Dept.reputation and the officer whose life unfortunately was drastically changed as a result of Mr. Gaymons illegal behavior.
    I’ve been to branchbrook countless time and never felt threatened. I just choose to abide by the law.

  2. One other thing, the author’s post comes across as though the law enforcement officers are as an equal threat to citizens as muggers, rapist, dealers and murderers. That is extremely irresponsible and that post was an obvious attempt to take a potshot at law enforncement agents who serve and protect us everyday. It’s easy for some anti-police goovester to sit back and take shots (for lack of a better term) at those that protect without ever walking in their shoes and seeing first hand what they have to deal with on a daily basis. That ‘article’ was flat out biased and disgraceful.

  3. Use common sense. I wouldn’t walk or jog in ANY public park unescorted after dark or travel off the beaten path in unfamiliar territory. It’s unfortunate that this is world we live in but it’s reality.
    As far as taking my dog, I love my Labby but she’s totally useless as a watchdog.

  4. To be honest I was skeptical about Branch Brook Park after reading numerous horror stories that have presumably been blown up by the media. But this article has given me a little more peace of mind. I was under the impression that the park was a dangerous place 24/7 but the author has cleared that up for me by emphasizing that the park is safe during the day time. I now intend to visit Branch Brook Park myself.
    As to your comment , herbeverschmel , this post does not in anyway appear to be biases. The author is simply reiterating the facts about what happened to Dean, and you should find something feasible to direct your angry rants at.

  5. What a God-awful post! Is the premise supposed to be that, because Dean Gaymon was shot by police, anybody walking in Branch Brook Park is in danger of the same? Is the premise supposed to be that this beautiful park is dangerous to anyone walking at 11am on a summer day because it’s in Newark? And what the heck is the relevance of Route 280 and the Basilica being nearby? BTW, anyone who really wants to see drug paraphenalia (and therefore, “debauched nightlife,” I guess) can find it in Andersen Park, our local source for drugs. Yeesh.

  6. I disagree, the authors assertion that park wasn’t safe for Mr. Gaymon is incorrect. It was safe for hundreds of others that day, Mr. Gaymon and his actions placed him in danger. Btw- I’m not angry, annoyed by the tone of that posting and it’s veiled attack on law enforcement, yes, but hardly angry.

  7. JG,
    I’m not a blogger. I respond but I don’t have a blog. How bout ‘The Iceman Cometh’….that might be a catchy title.

  8. I’m with you, scottaleh.
    But I know that the park is safe. I walked there every day after my month-long sojourn in Katmandu, accompanied only by my pedigreed Lithuanian bloodhound and my 16 year old daughter, who is SMOKIN’ HOT and knows it.
    We encountered actual people, doing actual things. I was flabbergasted. I asked Sheriff Lynch if he thought the place was safe. He couldn’t stop staring at my daughter. What a letch!
    Anyway, I’ll be posting every week now, so you can follow my adventures and those of my daughter (I’ll include some pix as well!).
    Ciao from Brick City!

  9. If you haven’t been to that Basilica — walk over and take a look inside. It’s amazing. We wandered over there with kids in tow after rollerskating at the rink in Branch Brook.

  10. Bad stuff (or good stuff, for that matter) can happen anywhere. One of the most horrific examples of this is the story about the woman who lived in an exclusive gated community in CA who was murdered by the psycho son of one of her neighbors.
    So yeah, we need to exercise common sense and caution but we can’t live our lives constantly in fear.

  11. Cro, man, you are on a Roll! I’ve had some good belly laughs thanks to your posts over the past couple of days! bravo! 😉

  12. herb, I honestly wonder if you’re reading the same article as the rest of us.
    I must say though that “anti-police goovester” is an interesting turn of a phrase.

  13. dang !! typo, I meant ‘anti-police groovester” i worked so hard on that and botched it, thank you though.

  14. please! more postings from whitey whiterson and her travels outside of insular montclair with marmaduke and hong kong phooey to protect her from her own imagination.
    exactly what basis were you questioning the safety of branch brook? the gaymon incident? more? or was it just based on the fact that it’s located in newark? perhaps the marriage of your imagination with stereotypes based on personal prejudices created the fear of a dark skinned predator lurking behind every cherry blossom tree.
    if you’re going to be victimized, the data says it’s going to happen in yantacaw or mountainside or anderson or midland parks. just ask those folks from bath township, littleton, tacoma, jefferson county, larose, etc.
    that elderly couple could have been packing. that mother/daughter team were most certainly skilled pit fighters and philip…surely he’s prepared to beat off would-be attackers with a 5-pound catfish.
    i could be way off but discussing the safety of the park with the other hens in the coop and actually venturing to said park with clifford and tiger schulman jr. while further down the “article” fessing up to your ignorance by asking lynch for crime data, doesn’t give me the feeling that i am.

  15. I frequently cycle alone, no dog or male escort. I’m over 50, female and overweight, but I ride a mountain bike, helmet and scary dark glasses and have been mistaken for a female cop on occasion. That said, I have been harassed in broad afternoon daylight in Branch Brook by male teenagers when I ride too slowly up the hill. ( Hey b**tch, nice bike, I want it…) so I don’t ride up that hill alone and only ride where I can maintain at least 12 mph. I also ride earlier in the morning as thugs tend to sleep in or I ride in cold weather.
    That is a shame as the park is beautiful. People do walk in the park, but women walk in pairs, talking on phones and older men have dogs.
    In the past 10 years, the park has gotten much nicer, but the Essex County Cops do not patrol this or the other parks with much frequency. I would not recommend walking alone in Branch Brook.

  16. They always patrol that park and if there isn’t a uniformed officer there is someone that is undercover…oh, wait, they cant do that anymore because some guy was in the woods looking for some action, panicked did some stuff he shouldn’t and the rest is history…and now i believe they said they will no longer patrol that area with undercover police detectives as a result. Good law abiding citizens lose again.

  17. I disagree with the hostility directed towards this article. No where does it criticize the police, and her task was a perfectly acceptable one due to the fact that out local paper has recently stated that Branch Brook Park has major prostitution, drug, and violence problems. Frankly its just stupid and unjustified anger.

  18. The choices he made that day greatly increased the chances of a violent ending.
    I hope I’m not riding behind you, herb, when the cops catch you going 30 mph in a 25 mph zone and riddle your car with bullets.

  19. Ya know… I’ve been thinking about the whole tragic event… and I wonder… OK assuming Mr. Dean was doing something he shouldn’t have been. Or he was looking for something… and the policeman is undercover, right? so he’s in plain clothes. Let’s say Mr Dean approached the officer, and for argument, maybe the policeman went along with it. Even for a moment! And then freaked out, which would explain why he *completely* overreacted. Might also explain why the officer had to be sequestered for 4 days afterward. He *freaked*.
    Of course all this is assuming what we’ve heard so far is true, which it probably isn’t.
    But, it would certainly explain why such force was used when it may not have been warranted. I mean really. Lewdness = shoot to kill? Heck, isn’t peeing in public also considered lewdness? If so, I know a lot of people who wouldn’t have made it over the Tijuana border crossing 25 years ago after a night of partying.
    just sayin.

  20. If I got pulled over doing 30 mph in a 25 , got out of the car and charged the police officer, I’m sure I would suffer a violent endeding and I can’t say i blame the police officer. They only get a split second to decide between who goes home and who ends up in a body bag. Just remember the case the case of Officer Steven McDonald who never thought Shevon Jones would pull a gun on him and look what happened. The tie doesn’t always go to the runner in these cases.

  21. ((It was safe for Dean Gaymon. The choices he made that day greatly increased the chances of a violent ending. There were hundreds of people in their at the same time that day that enjoyed the park and returned home safely. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Gaymon chose to go the path he did and as a result tarnishing the Sheriff’s Dept.reputation and the officer whose life unfortunately was drastically changed as a result of Mr. Gaymons illegal behavior.
    I’ve been to branchbrook countless time and never felt threatened. I just choose to abide by the law.))
    Since when is hitting on someone or flirting if you will illegal behavior??? I seriously thought Montclair was full of liberal minded educated diverse people??????? HELLO?? Not a single person stood up to this hateful post. Go figure…..
    No one cares until they come knocking for YOU.

  22. rj, it’s not that many here don’t such posts repugnant, it’s just that we no longer feel the need to respond to these types of comments quite so directly. Often it is wasted breath.
    FWIW this area IS full of opened minded educated and diverse people. I avoid the word liberal, as even most of the conservatives here are not anti-gay.

  23. There’s a big difference between flirting with someone and masturbating in public (if that’s indeed what Mr. Gaymon was doing). That’s a public lewdness issue, not a sexual orientation issue…

  24. I do hope that Ms. Albanese does not think for one second that even having alongside her a 16-year-old black belt “who’s ripped and knows it” is truly good protection against a firearm. Or against multiple assailants. (This applies of course to any park or to, say, certain neighborhoods in Newark and Paterson, where she did not in fact dare to traipse.)
    Really, this was a silly post. Mere stunting. The sort of thing the Baristas will eat up, but not something otherwise worth taking seriously.

  25. You made some extremely unfair accusations.I would feel the same way if it was male with a female. I don’t care who was involved in the incident, a park is no place for that type of behavior. BTW- H8 ‘hate’ is such an overused term these days, its beginning to lose its meaning. If you think my post was hateful then I dont believe you really know what hate is.

  26. Although I agree that a martial arts savvy teen and a “big dog” are no match for a firearm, I still find this story less compelling because of them. As I’m a woman who regularly hikes alone — no dog or progeny — I’d be far more interested to hear what the writer has to say about being a woman ALONE in the park.

  27. Why will I never learn?
    In an apparent need to punish myself, I followed the link to My Big Walk, where I learned that she is a fan of the Scottish band The Proclaimers (maybe Ally Sheedy turned her on to them).
    She informs us that “heaver” is a “Scotch” word for talking rubbish.
    And now here I was all of this time thinking it was “haver”, and that words are Scottish or even Gaelic in Scotland, but the drink is Scotch.
    I promised myself I’ll never go back. Hope I can stick to it better than I did the no-drinking.

  28. cro, thank you for sharing the “heaver” definition. Can’t wait to tell the DW. We’ve pondered what that meant since the first time we heard the song.
    FWIW Scotch is an acceptable substitute for Scottish.

  29. The devoted Scottish nationalists I’ve met always say they speak Gaelic, prounounced by them “Gallic,” as opposed to the “Irish” their cousins across the Irish Sea speak. (And yet, they refer to their dream country as “Alba,” not Scotland.))
    But they also always just seem to call it “whisky,” without that “e” between k and y. And nothing else.
    And State Street, the only person I ever recall who imagines “Scotch” is an acceptable substitute for Scottish was John Kenneth Gailbraith. I recall he even once wrote a book titled “The Scotch.”

  30. Scotch may be acceptable to you, pete. But use it in glasgow and you’ll get eye-rolling and amusement if you’re an American. Maybe something else if you’re English.
    Cathar, “whiskey” with the e is how the Irish spell it, without the e is how the Scots do.
    Either way, I’ll have one!

  31. Might one of you kind gentlemen be able to enlighten me as to whether “Celtic” is properly pronounced with a hard “K” sound at the beginning, or an “S” sound? as in, “Kelly”, or “Cellar”?
    much obliged.
    Kay (…3 gens back…) McDill

  32. Both are fine, Kay.
    There is no letter k in Irish, so c is pronounced as k in most cases.
    But again, soft c or hard c is fine.

  33. Ah, allow me to rephrase, scotch is an acceptable substitute for scottish according to the people who are in charge of the language stuff. As far as I’m concerned scotch is only an acceptable substitute for tequila.

  34. I of course will disagree somewhat with croiagusanam, Kay. The word “Celtic” is well-known to be derived from the Greek “Keltoi” (referring to “secret” or “hidden people”) should then, if you’re at all a linguistic purist, be pronounced as if it begins with a k.
    And since the Celts are viewed as originally an Indo-European people, this would tie in the the hard c found in many similar languages.
    Be that as it may, to maintain that it’s actually the Boston “Keltics” would prove completely useless with your average Larry Bird fan. So don’t bother.
    (But if you ever get a chance, Kay, try getting sometime to the Western Isles, places like Lewis & Harris – one island, two names, where Harris tweed comes from) off the coast of Scotland – where some do still speak what they call “Gaelic” but pronounce “Gallic” and there is even at least one radion station in the tongue. It all just sounds as if they’re “tootling” at each other, and their voices weirdly seem to go up at the end of every other sentence too.)

  35. Again Kay, cathar notwithstanding, both forms are correct. You would be seen as rather a snob (and an outoftowner) were you to cheer on the Celtic footballers, or the American cagers, with a hard c.
    While “keltoi” is a Greek designation for the people, Stephen Allen states that “the origin of the term ‘keltoi’is unknown, although it is probably itself Celtic since it often appears in tribal names such as Celtiberi, and personal names such as Celtillus…. Caesarwrote… that some tribes of Gaul referred to themselves collectively as Celts, “although we call them Gauls”…. As to the meaning, several explanations have been forward. Based on Indo-European root words, ‘noble or exalted’ has been suggested as a possible explanation for ‘Celt’.
    So, loathe as I am to disagree with cathar, the fact is that the origin of the word is not at all “well-known” to be derived from Greek. Rather it seems more likely that a word already in use by the people themselves was absorbed into the Greek and, since they had a written language before the Celts did, they passed it on.
    Go raibh math agut, a chara.

  36. Ahhhh, thank you all! Travel to the isle is definitely on my ‘bucket list’, and I would love to just sit and listen to the folk. It sounds magical. I just picked up a book on the Celts at B&N and finding it fascinating.
    If one of you would like to organize a Gaelic class at the adult school (hint, hint!) I’d be your first student!

  37. Kay, a man named Pol O’ Morchu, who is a native speaker from the Gweedore area of Donegal, is based in Montclair and offers classes. At least he did a few years back — I haven’t spoken with him lately. The last address I have for him is PO Box 43093 in Montclair 07043.
    Also, Daltai na Gaeilge offers weekend immersion classes up in the Irish Alps (the Catskills) throughout the year. They are a great organization and there are dozens of events for all levels of interest. They have a website and even a Facebook page.

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