SOMERVILLE, NJ - Mother Nature and her extended family have begun to re-emerge along the Raritan River following a weekend of abuse from a crowd of 250-300 out-of-town visitors who turned the rock-strewn muddy shoals of Somerville Beach into a sprawling, day-long party, leaving behind piles of trash and debris that was cleaned up by volunteers on Monday.
The 980 pounds of trash included discarded beer and liquor bottles, bottle caps, cigarette butts, snack bags, cups, miscellaneous food wrappers, dirty diapers and used tampons; also left behind were several makeshift latrines in the underbrush and wooded areas adjacent to the riverbank. A front-end loader brought the bags to a dumpster in the access parking lot on South Bridge Street for disposal.
Posted signs on the trails leading to the river list prohibited activities including swimming, open fires, smoking and alcohol consumption.
On Tuesday, a steady stream of Public Works crews, field workers from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Somerset County Parks Commission, local police and others came to the access site to tighten up the area beneath the Route 206 overpass between Somerville and Hillsborough.
The goal is to prevent a reoccurrence during the upcoming July 4th weekend. Graffiti on a concrete wall beneath the bridge was covered over with paint.
Temporary No Parking signs are to be posted on nearby residential streets, and the owners of two adjacent commercial properties with parking lots say they will take measures to prevent parking, according to Somerville Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka.
In and amongst the dense undergrowth lining the Raritan River Greenway path and other paths leading down to the river are several more bi-lingual No Trespassing signs planted the past two days in an effort to discourage visitors from trashing the riverfront and adjacent area.
Concrete barriers now block access to the parking lot, and a flashing electronic highway sign alternates messages in English and Spanish - "River Closed" and "No Trespassing."
Also on Tuesday, county and local officials and law enforcement agencies clarified jurisdictional questions and discussed different scenarios to deal with the potential of more unruly crowds over the July 4th holiday weekend.
By Wednesday morning, calm had begun to return to the preserved property which is owned by the borough, sharing an easement with Somerset County for the Raritan River Greenway path.
The easement winds its way parallel to the river where herons, egrets and osprey feed and Mockingbirds sing, and where a pair of nesting Bald Eagles from the Duke Farms preserve just upriver also swoop down to snatch fish with their talons, returning to the nest to feed their young offspring.
Fish stirred in the mid-afternoon sun, breaking the surface of the slow-moving water to feed on insects.
Officials are hoping the measures they've taken will discourage crowds from returning. After an uneventful day Wednesday, Geoff Soriano, secretary/director of the Somerset County Park Commission said "No news is good news."
Sluka, who visited the access point Wednesday added "One day at a time."
Officials say they will keep a close watch on the area throughout the weekend and beyond and that police will enforce the No Trespassing order if necessary.
Though Somerville Beach is off-limits temporarily, the Greenway remains open, according to Sluka. The passive recreation path is used by joggers, walkers, cyclists and others.
Somerville Beach has been a popular destination for out-of-towners for years. The size of the crowds coming to the site off South Bridge Street had grown over the past four weekends with families and smaller groups of people arriving during the week to spend a day on the water beneath the bridge.