Small pond proposed for two polar bears at New Jersey park

About 20 people, including two polar bears and eight black bears, met with the borough to discuss alternatives to build a small pond for the two animals at the Thomas K. Moore Park in Readington Township, N.J. The bears are being housed there temporarily after escaping their cage in a residential area.

ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CNN) – Readington, New Jersey is known for two things: the restored courthouse, a quirky design and its status as a farm community.

As the home of the Thomas K. Moore Park, a museum dedicated to George Washington’s place at the founding of the new United States, Readington is embracing its farmland charm while trying to protect the animals that come to visit.

“The bears present us with a dilemma,” says Mayor Fred Allyn Jr.

The bears were recently relocated from an adjacent wildlife park in a way that was supposed to be safe for them and the public. But the bears had gotten past fences at the park and escaped. Now they are once again being held safely, but they don’t belong here.

“Their breeding behavior is not suited to captivity, and this essentially is a breeding facility,” said Christine Walker, director of the Readington Borough Authority, at a meeting on Monday.

“The bears posed such a serious risk to human life in just holding onto a building that would lead to their escape, that we really had no choice but to move them at the state’s direction,” says Allyn.

Readington Borough will be meeting with the Association of New Jersey Audubon Society about the ponds they want to see at the park.

The project is still in its early stages and the borough isn’t really sure how they want to move forward, says Walker. Allyn says the town and the Association are committed to doing something eventually.

Some people, Walker says, would like to keep the park as is — but Walker says, “We are a community here. We have to explore all of our options.”

The association agrees. “It’s a beautiful park and I wouldn’t ever want to be rid of it,” says Jay Mendelson, head of the association. “People have a special connection here, even when they’re from far away.”

Readington has a particularly unique relationship with nature. Residents can hike through natural grasslands and take part in nature tours.

There are over 300 birds of prey living within a 1-mile radius of Readington. The town also hosts one of the few active horse farms in New Jersey and has adopted a dog ordinance — allowing residents to keep their pets outside but requiring them to keep up a buffer of at least 100 feet from neighbors’ properties.

Now, Readington is doing what it can to make the park work.

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In addition to the pond discussed Monday, the association is considering building a trail around the park, a trail that would provide close-up views of animals living in the park. Some animals, like the bison, are semi-wild, while others require a more permanent shelter. For now, residents may be able to visit the bears and bison at the park but the animals can’t live there permanently.

Readington will host another public meeting in a couple weeks to continue discussing what to do with the park. And a decision should be made before the end of the year.

“I think it’s going to take some village, some hard work,” said Walker. “We’re aware of the needs of the park, of people who want it to be here, of the animals, of everything.”

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