BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Residents around the area are signing a petition in protest after it was announced that the Somerset County Park Commission will be holding an emergency meeting to discuss restricting access within 100 feet of all waterways in Washington Valley Park.

The park commission announced the meeting, which will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday both virtually and at the commission headquarters on Milltown Road.

According to the meeting notice, the meeting is to discuss prohibiting members of the general public from entering certain areas of Washington Valley Park.

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The park commission, the notice said, has seen many violations of park rules and regulations recently, including swimming in waterways; jumping off cliffs and a tower at the reservoir in Washington Valley Park; possession of alcohol and other substances; and littering, lighting of camp fires, urinating, defecating, parking illegally and trespassing on private property surrounding the park.

In addition, the commission said, the park has become the target of vandalism.

If approved, the park commission will restrict public access to all areas within 100 feet of any body of water in the park. Those who disobey will be considered trespassing, which will be punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.

The meeting will be held both in person and virtually on Zoom, but only those in person will be able to comment.

Park Commission headquarters will open at 10:45 a.m., and close immediately after the meeting ends. All attendees must practice social distancing, and wear face masks or face coverings.

A petition has been filed on, and already has almost 2,000 signatures, as of Monday afternoon, with people speaking against the potential change.

“This will make it an act of trespassing to use more than 40 percent of the existing trails within the park,” the petition said. “This includes the scenic trails surrounding the reservoir for hiking, biking and fishing, as well as additional trails within the park near tributaries, rivers and bridges.”

In addition, the petition said, this action will impact Chimney Rock sports fields for baseball, basketball, tennis and the frisbee golf course, as well as the Buttermilk Falls waterfalls.

“This petition is to stop SCPC from abruptly closing this under-discussed, non-researched level of public access to taxpayer-funded trails, amid a global pandemic where access to open outdoor recreation is paramount to maintaining public health and giving citizens the highly recommended option of staying outdoors versus indoors,” the petition said.

Visit the petition by clicking here.