Mountain Lakes may restrict beaches - Daily Record (07/31/06)

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Mountain Lakes may restrict beaches
After-hours use, vandalism is up at town's public beaches

BY TEHANI SCHNEIDER
DAILY RECORD


MOUNTAIN LAKES --The borough council is weighing the options of closing the borough's public beaches early or possibly banning non-residents because unauthorized use and vandalism at the facilities after hours has spiked.

Borough manager Gary Webb said the issue was raised at a recent council meeting, where members addressed their own concerns, as well as the concerns of residents who have reported seeing people freely using the facilities after the lifeguards leave at dusk.

The two beaches in the borough, Island Beach and Birchwood Birch, open at dawn and close at 11 p.m. But after the lifeguards go off duty at 6 p.m., the facilities remain open and accessible to the general public, including vandals.

Both beaches have incurred notable damage recently, Webb said, singling out the destruction of a bathroom toilet at Birchwood Beach as the most recent act of vandalism.

A few break-ins were also reported last year, and resulted in minor damage, he said.

"Last year, it was a concern, and we're also hearing the same concerns this year," Webb said.

"We don't know if the misuse is by residents in town, or out of town. There's nothing to indicate it's any particular group."

Vandalism at the beaches has occurred in the past, years before non-residents were permitted to use the facilities in 2004, said Police Chief Robert Tovo.

"We're not in any position to draw a correlation between non-resident use and vandalism," Tovo said. "We know it (vandalism) happens after the lifeguards leave. It's safe to say the majority of it is happening after dark."

Tovo said officers check the facilities on a daily basis, but are unable to enforce stringent rules because of the facility hours.

"After 6 (p.m.), people are still permitted to be in the water, and be there. We're not necessarily looking for violations. There's no way to narrow it down," he said.

Most of the damage, he said, is discovered by the lifeguards in the morning if the patrols don't discover it late at night.

To combat the problem, Tovo said his department is recommending the facilities close at 9 p.m., two hours earlier than the current closing time, but still three hours later than most of the county parks..

"If you look at the Morris County Parks System, they open at dawn and close at dusk," Tovo said. "Closing the facilities earlier- that's the bottom line for us."

Councilwoman Louise Davis, the borough liaison to the recreation commission, said the commission is trying to come up with numbers of individuals using the facilities between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., when the vandalism is believed to be taking place.

The recreation commission offers season beach passes to families and a nominal fee for day passes to both residents and non-residents.

Yet the passes, which help fund the costs of maintaining and staffing the facilities, are not enforced after the lifeguards retire for the day.

Members of the council also cited that fact at the recent session, Webb said. He added that a few members said they have seen many non-residents after hours at the facilities, and garbage and debris early in the morning.

The council agreed unanimously to pass both issues on to the recreation commission for review and recommendation at its last session, Webb said.

"They'll review our resident and non-resident beach passes, and see if there's any changes that they can recommend for use after the lifeguards leave," Webb said.

Reverting back to a residents only use of the facilities will also be looked at, he said.

As far as park hours, Webb said the borough has historically kept the beaches open until the late closing time.

Changes in the borough's beach policy may possibly require an ordinance to be passed by the council, he said.

"We have backed up recreation commission regulations with the council in the past," Webb said.
 
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