7 reasons why I actually love living in Clark, NJ (Opinion)
Clark is a tiny township along the southern edge of Union County, New Jersey.
Its population of 15,544 makes it the 167th most populated municipality in the state (out of 564). With 4.723 square miles of land area, it is New Jersey's 283rd largest community.
A Republican enclave in bright blue Union County, it is also notable for being home to Exit 135 of the Garden State Parkway.
Something else to know about Clark Township? It's where I live. My wife Amy and I decided to buy a house and settle here in 2016 — she grew up in town, and it's close to family.
But there is a massive problem with Clark. I'm not talking about the typical NJ struggles with property taxes, overdevelopment, and traffic. Nor even Clark's connection to an infamous hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.
No, I'm talking specifically about Clark's reputation. It's in the toilet. The nicknames, the stereotypes, the stories. I will let some of our recent news headlines summarize what I mean:
—Secret racist tapes leaked — Clark, NJ mayor is asked to resign
—Clark, NJ mayor apologizes: Admits racist, sexist comments caught on tape
—‘Clark KKK … embarrassing’ — Residents blast NJ mayor over racist recordings
—Clark, NJ police union vote ‘no confidence’ in mayor over racist comments
—NJ mayor charged with using town hall to run corrupt business
—NJ says Clark police chief, sergeant should be fired for ‘deeply troubling’ acts
Racism, sexism, corruption, and radical ignorance. Ugh.
A major sea change in town is sorely needed. Public opinion about Clark's character absolutely will not change until justice is served and all complicit parties are punished and/or ousted. Given the zealous support of some residents, that may unfortunately take years or even decades to fully materialize.
But the point and purpose of this article is not to harp on these troubles. Instead, I want to focus on the positives of beautiful Clark, New Jersey. And offer the reasons why my family loves living here and will continue to do so, despite the turmoil and bad feelings.
I commute 40 miles to work every day. But that would be a lot longer if I couldn't be on the Parkway, northbound or southbound, in two minutes (depending on traffic lights). The 130s are a busy and highly accident-prone section of the GSP. But the convenience of having a major road running right through town can not be overstated.
Our little town of 15,000 residents feels like it has just as many restaurants. And they are almost all fantastic.
From dumplings at the brand new Mulan Fusion to banquets at Bistro 1051, to pizza at Philippo's, to pastries at Vaccaro's, to matzo ball soup at Deli King, to classic diner fare at Manny's, to drinks at O'Brians on the Green, to wings at Paragon Tap & Table, to amazing garlic knots at Tarantella's, to a burger and fries at the infamous White Diamond.
There are plenty of chain restaurants in town too, including Chili's, Applebees, Smashburger, Blaze Pizza, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Panda Express, Friendly's, Jersey Mike's, Bubbakoo's Burritos, Wendy's, Burger King, McDonald's, Dunkin, and Quick Chek.
Clark is renowned for having one of the best Recreation departments in the state. They put on a wide array of programs, particularly for children and seniors. And there are plenty of township and county parks offering playgrounds, walking trails, and pickleball. Truly a point of town pride.
The star attraction is Clark Recreation Summer Camp, which offers six weeks of half-day activities, for hundreds of local Pre-Kindergarten through 9th grade kids. For just $65 total.
By the numbers, Clark may not be among the top school districts in the state. But we have found nothing but professional, compassionate educators and administrators in the schools. And every year's graduating class at Arthur L. Johnson High School boasts a number of incredibly successful college-bound and career-minded young adults.
We know our children will get a solid education in Clark, full of opportunities for academic and social enrichment.
One additional knock against Clark is that it does not have a concentrated "downtown" area. (Nor is there any clear vision to create one.) But so many surrounding towns have flourishing, quaint, vibrant downtown business districts.
We love going to Cranford, Westfield, and Scotch Plains to shop and eat. And practically every big-box store imaginable can be found in neighboring Linden, Rahway, Woodbridge, or Edison.
Newark Airport / NYC
I consider Clark to be on the edge of the NYC metro area, offering a straightforward commute to New York City. Although it does not have a train station, quite a few stations along the Raritan Valley and Northeast Corridor lines of NJ transit are within a 5 to 10 minute drive. Depending on traffic, a drive to the inbound Holland Tunnel can take as little as 40 minutes.
Newark Liberty International Airport is an easy trip too. I timed a recent early morning trip — I made it from my front door through Terminal A security in just 35 minutes.
Honestly, the number one reason I love where I live are the people we've met over the last seven years. Neighbors, parents of our kids' friends and classmates, and family acquaintances have been friendly and welcoming. The police, fire, and first aid crews are top-notch. We have found great community and great fun in the Clark Little League, Clark Soccer Club, Clark Flag Football League, and Cub Scout Pack 145. Halloween trick-or-treating is a real treat. And the town becomes festive and bright every Christmas season.
Sure, there are some nasty, entitled people around. But overall, Clark has been a great place to plant our roots and let our kids grow up.
We plan to stay in Clark for the long haul. (At least until our youngest son graduates high school in 18 years.) Before our eyes, the demographics of Clark are changing for the better. More young families are moving in, while the "good ol' boys" are retiring and moving out. All positive, optimistic news.
Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow Dan on Facebook for your latest weather forecast updates.
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