A Gloomy Garden State Trail of Yellow Tape

Maybe “home rule” is not as bad as it seems.

For years, I have written columns and editorials condemning home rule in New Jersey as archaic and a big reason why property taxes never go down. It all has to do with just about every town needing its own
school system, police force and DPW.

But now we are in a pandemic and in one small way, I found myself this morning applauding home rule.
All state and county parks and trails in New Jersey closed at sunset Tuesday in line with the governor’s executive order.

But because of “home rule,” Phil Murphy said when announcing the order that town officials reserve the right to do what they want.

And so it was Wednesday morning in my little corner of New Jersey – western Morris County – that I happily found my local park at Horseshoe Lake in Roxbury Township open as usual.

The walking or jogging trail around the perimeter of the park is a bit more than one mile, which is certainly suitable for a healthy run or walk. Gloomy conditions this morning were not ideal, but there still were a number of people on the trail.

The park trail at one end connects to the West Morris Greenway, a wooded path toward Chester run by the county park commission. Today, the connection point was sealed off with yellow, police tape
ordinarily seen at crime scenes.

A few miles away is the Columbia Trail, which runs from Mount Olive all the way into Hunterdon County. Here, there was a crazy maze of yellow tape sealing off both the trail and a small parking lot.
Tape is not exactly a moat filled with alligators. It’s pretty simple to walk around.

It will be interesting to see how energetically authorities enforce trail closings in the days ahead. One must ask, are we going to see a police officer chase down a jogger for “running illegally?”

Parker Space, a conservative assemblyman from Sussex County, immediately condemned the park closings, saying he’s “about had enough” of government shutdowns.

The governor is unlikely to listen to Space. Opposition, however, also is coming from Assemblyman Jay Webber, a Republican from Morris Plains.

He started a Facebook petition urging the governor to reconsider.

“Respectfully, governor, you should trust us more,” is part of what it says. The petition says residents are smart enough to use parks responsibly and notes how exercise and fresh air enhance physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Webber said the governor closed the parks without any real data to support the move, adding that, if nothing else, the petition will give an outlet to unhappy park users.

Webber can be a partisan Republican, but in this case, he seems willing to give Murphy some slack. He notes that the governor is making pandemic-related decisions every day and that he’s earned the
right to a “Mulligan.”

Murphy’s favorite sport is soccer, but you figure he knows something about golf. If there’s no change, those yearning to go outside will have to hope their municipal parks are still open. Yep, New Jersey home rule in action.

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  • Michael Schaefer

    This should be a county by county decision, not a state one.

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