A New Kind of COVID-19 Problem at Heddon Park

Heddon Park

One of the pandemic-related controversies in New Jersey was the governor’s decision in April to close county and state parks. This brought a good level of bipartisan condemnation and, fortunately, lasted only about three weeks or so.

Now, as summer heat envelopes the area, there’s another problem-overuse and uncivilized behavior is forcing local officials to close some parks and natural areas once again.

Lake Solitude in High Bridge clearly hasn’t been living up to its name. Local officials first drafted an ordinance to control visitors; a few days later, they closed the area after reports of unruly crowds, drinking, littering and people not complying with social distancing.

In Morris County, Heddon Park, which features challenging hiking trails and a babbling brook, is now in the midst of a two-week closure.

David Helmer, the executive director of the county park commission, said he had little choice. He described how an influx of recent visitors left behind beer bottles and other trash, caused a dumpster fire and overused rest rooms. Moreover, he said the brook was “dammed up” to create a swimming area.

Helmer says he knew easing of the lockdown amid the onset of warm weather would mean more park visitors than normal, which theoretically is a good thing. Morris County has an extensive park system and officials want people to visit.

But he says the recent damage is nothing he’s seen before. Closing Heddon Park for two weeks allows the area to be cleaned and also may result in unruly visitors not returning.

In both cases, officials point fingers at out-of-state residents drawn to the region by Internet posts raving about the area’s beauty. Where visitors live, of course, can be identified by their vehicle’s license plates.

Blaming those coming from out-of-state is a typical response in such situations. It also comes when Gov. Phil Murphy is asking visitors from states where COVID-19 is spiking to self-quarantine. He even has mused about building a wall around the Garden State.

That probably would help the parks, as well as keep state residents healthy. At the same time, let’s not be too sanguine about all this – New Jersey residents, unfortunately, are also capable of poor behavior in parks.

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