‘To get home is a nightmare’: Some shore towns concerned with crowd control over free admission to state parks
All state parks are free through the summer, including Island Beach State Park, but some towns near the park are concerned with crowd control -- once the lots fill up and hundreds of people are forced to turn around.
A hot and humid day like today will most likely draw a capacity crowd to Island Beach State Park, but once the gates close -- you have a lot of people who still want to enjoy a beach day, and don't want to drive far.
That means extra resources for traffic, safety, and crowd control.
“I know where the governor lives in Rumson,” says LeeAnn Zoppi, of Berkeley Township. “Try it over there. Try that over there. Why don't you make it a free-for-all over where you live and see how that works?”
Zoppi has lived in Berkeley Township next to the entrance to Island Beach State Park for 25 years.
“People don't even want to shop on a Saturday and Sunday because to get home is a nightmare, where these people going to go?” says Zoppi. “And why would you do this? How is that going to help our township? How is that going to help New Jersey? It's not.”
Zoppi and local leaders say they were never told about the plans to offer free access until it was announced. Seaside Park Mayor John Peterson says that left his town unprepared to handle what could be unprecedented crowds this summer.
“It's really something that could have entailed a lot more input in terms of practical solutions that also could have been implemented at the state level and still can be,” says Peterson.
The mayor is asking for the state to help provide additional financial resources to the communities to handle the overflow. But people like Zoppi think the state money could have been better spent than offering a free pass.
“Don't you think you could have done something better serving with our surplus of money then making the island a free-for-all,” says Zoppi. “It was already crowded on a Saturday or Sunday you cannot get through.”
Mayor Peterson says he will speak with the governor's office to see if more resources are available. In the meantime, he welcomes the extra visitors to the town, but just asks for patience from everyone this summer.