State parks reopen to large crowds

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

New Jersey’s desire for fresh air and open space on the first beautiful weather weekend of spring could not be contained as residents by the thousands flocked to state and county parks with a level of enthusiasm that threatened to overwhelm the system.

From Hartshorne Woods Park in Monmouth, to the D&R Canal State Park, to North Branch Park in Bridgewater, to Liberty State Park, New Jersey’s most visited state park, residents stormed into the sunshine with varying degrees of protection and casual adherence to suggestions on face coverings.

“I think a lot of people came because of the weather, but also because the park was closed and they couldn’t come here for several weeks, so I do believe that the numbers were higher,” said Jersey City resident Mandy Edgecombe.

Edgecombe took advantage of the parks reopening on Saturday to ride through. She said for the most part compliance was pretty high.

“I saw a group of five, a smaller grouping, go behind a bunch some trees with some coolers and chairs and have their own little picnic or party. And then the next they it came out that said no picnicking,” she said.

For Faith Lau, who can see Liberty State Park from her balcony, being there this weekend was a welcome reprieve from her apartment, which she and her husband share with two children.

“I think it’s fair to say that the majority of people were wearing masks, but there were definitely people not wearing masks,” she said. “There were a couple of picnics, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. Again, in big open spaces. But I think that people were respectful.”

Andrew Sansone and his fiance are living with his future in-laws in Manalapan and took full advantage of the great weekend weather at Mercer County Park, Deep Cut Gardens and Battle of Monmouth State Park.

“Occasionally you would have people passing, or coming a little bit closer than 6 feet. I think some people are thinking the masks kind of makes them a little bit more invulnerable, which isn’t exactly true. But on the whole, everyone was pretty respectful of space and everyone was out and enjoying the day, and it wasn’t too crowded,” Sansone said.

Respecting space and being polite. What has this global pandemic done to the people of New Jersey? Good neighbors aplenty, knuckleheads minimal. Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday proclaimed it a success.

“I want to thank the overwhelming number of you who did the right thing and took all of our asks and precautions to heart,” Murphy said. “It was generally a very very positive experience. The only exception, and I want to hit this point again hard, not enough masks.”

Call it one small step for park lovers, and one giant leap for a state yearning to emerge from a spring of discontent, the likes of which we’ve rarely ever seen and hope to never see again.