Free entry into New Jersey's state parks was intended to offer "affordability and opportunity" as a way to cope with increased costs of gas and inflation. Instead, it's turned into a nightmare for the towns surrounding Island Beach State Park.

Seaside Park Mayor John Peterson told the Townsquare News Network that the traffic issues created on weekends when the parking lots fill up are now happening every day. Sometimes the lots are filled by 9 AM.

Peterson said once the park's lots fill up, drivers are turned away and sent on a long U-turn through South Seaside Park and Berkeley Township to Central Avenue (Route 35). But the volume of traffic has brought traffic to a crawl.

"With the free access it's going to be the same number of cars but it's a limited number of cars that are allowed into the park and that creates the overflow and the tremendous traffic backups and the inability for some of the volunteer fire company personnel to get where they need to go," Peterson said.

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The state did not give anyone advance warning about their plan, according to Peterson. A promised meeting with the DEP which runs state parks never took place.

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How is the problem fixed?

Peterson said an ideal solution would be funding for additional personnel needed to handle the extra traffic although he is concerned about being able to hire at this point in the season. Another would be to open up a state-owned parking lot next to Island Beach State Park.

"For whatever reason, they're not allowing cars to utilize it. It's right immediately adjoining the park," Peterson said.

Berkeley Township Administrator John Camera told the Asbury Park Press his township has an extra lot near the park entrance that could handle overflow parking.

Peterson said he considers the borough's employees and volunteers to be professionals who will handle whatever comes their way.

"Our people are well trained and will do their very best to deal with whatever situation gets handed to them but this is something we could certainly use some help with," Peterson said.

DEP spokesman Larry Hajna told us that the agency is aware of the concerns raised by Camera and Peterson.

"This indeed is a heavily used park in the summer. But, at this point, Island Beach is not experiencing demand that is significantly higher than in recent summers. The DEP, nevertheless, appreciates the concerns raised by Mr. Camera, and park staff have advised him to file a written request with the DEP. The DEP will be glad to review the request once it is received," Hajna said in a statement.

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