FLEMINGTON, NJ - Announced during the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders’ meeting on July 7 are five key dates for free county-sponsored family fun in a safer, physically-distanced format at South County Park (also known as the Hunterdon County Fairgrounds), in Lambertville.

There will be three free drive-in concerts, starting July 30, and for three consecutive Thursdays it will be held at South County Park. In addition, for late September and early October, two drive-in movie nights are now scheduled.

Audio for the concerts and movies will be old-fashioned drive-in style, with music being transmitted to car radios through an FM signal.

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Freeholder John Lanza, the county freeholder board’s liaison to the Hunterdon County Division of Parks & Recreation, noted that by offering outdoor music and movie entertainment without people and crowds getting too close together outside their vehicles, they are following New Jersey’s current executive orders from Gov. Phil Murphy. If event attendees step out of their vehicle, they are asked to wear a mask or face covering, and practice social distancing regulations while at the county park.

The first concert set for July 30 will feature Jake’s Rockin Country Band; on Aug. 6, a tribute band to Asbury Park-native Bruce Springsteen, “Asbury Fever,” will perform.

The finale of the free concert series set for Aug. 13 is homegrown Hunterdon Symphony, part of Hunterdon Musical Arts, Inc. Hunterdon Symphony has held its major concerts and group auditions in Flemington, at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, and its Saturday Strings classes have been held in downtown Flemington at Flemington Baptist Church, on the corner of Church and Main streets.

Hunterdon Musical Arts Inc. has held its annual Hunterdon Youth Orchestra Camp at HCRHS as well, and, a year ago, the camp culminated with the Youth Orchestra performance at the county’s Route 12 administrative buildings complex in Flemington.

Hunterdon Symphony is co-sponsored by funding allocated by the county Cultural & Heritage Commission, a volunteer county board headquartered in downtown Flemington at the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse, and an official partner of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Lanza commented on his childhood memories of summer nights at the South County Fairgrounds on Rt. 179, just off of Rt. 202. He said he recalls seeing George Lucas’ acclaimed 1980 sequel to Star Wars, “The Empire Strikes Back,” at the site of the original drive-in theatre.

Residents who are old enough to remember the drive-in at the South County Park were encouraged to revel in a bit of nostalgia in the months ahead. In addition to these three summer drive-in concerts, Hunterdon County officials and the Parks & Recreation division invites residents to “revisit the drive-in movie” starting in September.

Plans for two fall drive-in movies for Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 include screenings of the 2019 film, “Playing With Fire” and the 1968 hit “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” respectively.

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused many disruptions for people and families looking to enjoy themselves, and I congratulate the Hunterdon County Parks & Recreation division for their creativity in finding a way to bring the community together safely,” Lanza said. “This series is a great idea, and many residents, including myself as I trace back 40-plus years, have terrific memories of the drive-in at the South County Park. The recreational programs will be implemented following all public health protocols and guidelines from the state and our Hunterdon County Health Department.”
None of these five events will feature food vendors. Residents are advised that parking for each event will be on a limited, first-come, first-served basis with no pre-registration required.

Dan Bush, Hunterdon County Parks * Recreation’s division head, said, “Some may remember the old drive-in theater days at the South County Park. Returning to a simpler time while enjoying wholesome music and movies, bringing family and friends together in a safe environment, is a welcome summer activity Hunterdon County residents can look forward to.”

Lanza also commented on the absence of this year’s Hunterdon County 4-H & Agricultural Fair on the fairgrounds at South County Park, and what projects have been completed by local youths involved with the county 4-H.

“While the 4-H committee determined that the annual fair could not be held at South County Park this year due to COVID-19 public health restrictions, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension division has provided many virtual 4-H educational and enrichment opportunities, and they continue to do so over the summer,” he said. “Throughout spring, several Hunterdon County 4-H members incorporated ‘acts of service’ into their projects, including making face shields and donations of goodie bags to the Flemington Food Pantry, knapsacks for emergency service organizations and making cloth face masks. The success of virtual programming is evident, as 222 Hunterdon County 4-H members from all five of our public high schools were able to graduate from the county 4-H program in the 2020 class. Their dedication and commitments, especially while experiencing all that has gone on in the last few months, is to be commended.”

Nearly one month ago, at the June 16 meeting, Lanza announced the cancellations of Parks & Recreation division summer camp programs for 2020 due to COVID-19.

“We recognize that this is an issue for parents looking for summer camps for children who have been attending school remotely since March,” he said. “However, our parks division staff has been most creative in developing imaginative programs for children that are being offered virtually throughout the summer. They have worked diligently to produce programs that are entertaining and informative.”

Deputy Freeholder Director Susan Soloway, the board’s veterans liaison, was disappointed to have to announce the cancellation of this year’s 4-H & Agricultural Fair, which would have been held Aug. 19 through Aug. 23. The dates for August 2021 for the fair were announced, Aug. 25 through Aug. 29.

Soloway lamented that there will not be an opportunity for the Hunterdon County 4-H Fair to be held in late August. The 2020 installment would have again featured the Veterans’ Medal Ceremony on the opening fair date.

The event is an annual recognition and salute to county military veterans, including 100-year-old Flemington resident, Gene “Agniso” Valentino, who recently celebrated his birthday and received a proclamation from the freeholder board at its June 2 meeting, via teleconference.

“The annual Veterans’ Medal Ceremony will be rescheduled to a future date from its original Aug. 19 date as part of the 4-H Fair opening,” Soloway said. “The county’s health department has advised against holding the event, as it usually exceeds 200 people, many of whom are aged 60 to 90, as many of the county’s past medal recipients return to this annual county event to honor their brethren who are scheduled to receive medals there.”

“As we know older individuals are at a higher risk of developing more serious complications from COVID-19 related illnesses and the disease remains contagious,” she added. “We hope to arrange for a ceremony at a time when the risk is not so great for our veteran population. In this case, it is better to be safe than sorry, although it remains so disappointing to postpone because for many of our veterans, county elected officials and family members, this event has stood as one of the highlights of the year. We have had 100-year-old veterans in attendance in the past, and at the next medal ceremony we look forward to having Mr. Gene Valentino, who was honored by the freeholder board at our (June 2) meeting."

Valentino served in the U.S. military for 45 years, through 1985, and fought in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. He earned medals and bars, including the Combat Medal, Victory Medal, Vietnamese Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Pacific War Zone Medal, Merchant Marine Defense Medal, Middle East War Zone Medal, Philippines Liberation Medal, Atlantic War Zone Medal and Russian Medal.

Soloway said she was looking forward to meeting him in person at this year’s 4-H fair and getting to view the prestigious medals up close.

“Mr. Valentino is a true hero who Americans and the world owe so much to,” she said. “I understand his actual birthday was April 24, but I hope to see him at our County Veterans’ Medal Ceremony usually held at the 4-H Fair, and I would personally like to invite him as I would love to greet him and the other veterans, and see his heroic medals and bars. I truly wish him a Happy 100th Birthday and hope to see him at the ceremony.”

Residents are asked to check for further information on the Drive-In events ahead, three concerts and two films, by visiting the County Parks & Recreation website at http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/depts/parks/parks.htm.