Story by Chris Lundy and Catherine Galioto
BERKELEY – The Cedar Creek separating Berkeley and Lacey township hides a landmark that generations have jumped off of for fun – the Trestle. But recently, residents have noticed litter, drug paraphernalia, late night parties and other elements some say have gotten out of control.
Large “No Trespassing” signs dominate the Lacey side. Warren Avenue curves in off of Route 9. On one side, there are residences. On the other, the fields of Hebrew Park. In between, there is an unpaved road and a parallel footpath that reach beyond the signs for at least half a mile.
The old railway remnant known as the Trestle has had police response from both Berkeley and Lacey officers for incidents. Recently, the Trestle was a topic of discussion at a Berkeley Township Council meeting, when a resident brought up concerns with people “passed out from partying” from the night before.
The Berkeley resident told the council what he finds on his jogs in that area each weekend.
“I’ve run there Saturday morning and see people there who’ve been there since Friday night into Saturday morning, passed out, beer bottles everywhere and it’s 9 o’clock in the morning,” said the resident. “If I run Sunday evening, they are out there partying. It’s 8 o’clock at night.”
He said it seems changed from previous generations’ using the area. “Another landmark as kids in Berkeley, it’s something we knew we could enjoy, jumping off the Trestle into a clean creek, being able to go on a canoe. But there today, it’s a disaster.”
Earlier in the council meeting, officials mentioned problems with drug abuse the community is facing. “If you’re talking about illegal drugs, the Trestle is probably a big spot to hit,” said the resident to officials. “I’ve talked to the police, from both towns, but every time they get there, the people are not there. It might be time to knock it down.”
The challenge has been limiting access to people who are breaking the law there, while still allowing people to enjoy the area in legal ways, Lacey Police Chief Michael DiBella said.
There are issues with underage drinking, drug use, bonfires, and littering there, he said. “No Trespassing” signs have been put up, and police send patrols through the area when the weather is nice.
There are people who use the area for recreation that are not a problem, he said. Some of them are visiting nearby Hebrew Park. Some of them are kayaking. Some of them are using the Rail Trail.
As a result of the signs and the patrols, there have been fewer incidents on the Lacey side of the trestle, he said. He acknowledged that because of the lay of the land, it is easier for Lacey police to have access to the trestle than Berkeley.
The Berkeley side of the trestle is accessible only by driving down a long winding road off Serpentine Drive. It’s a quiet, residential community, sometimes flanked on one side by nothing but woods or the Barnegat Rail Trail. However, residents there say people driving to the trestle whip down the road at 50 mph. The road is narrow, as well. It’s just wide enough for one car to drive comfortably at a time. When they’re speeding down the road, it is not safe for any kids who might be playing in yards.
To get to the Berkeley side, you would have to park on the road or by the pump station and then walk a bit down the rail trail. The old trestle is made of heavy timber, but has clearly deteriorated. Years ago, adventurous people could drive over it. Not anymore. There is a garbage can there, like you would see at a park. The ground, in late winter, was still clean. There were just a few scraps of fireworks wrappers on the ground. The rail trail goes around it, and makes it accessible. On the Berkeley side, there are smaller, rusted signs nailed to a tree.
One nearby resident admitted that he used to drive down this road, back when he was a kid living in a different neighborhood, to hang out there. It’s a different crowd now, though. “These kids took it too far,” he said.
Another neighbor said they had no problem with people coming to the trestle as long as they drive safely, and are respectful. It’s when they are using drugs and shooting alcohol bottles with pellet guns that it becomes a nuisance.
“The cops get down here when they can. By the time they come, (the kids) are gone,” he said.
Berkeley Police Chief Karin DiMichele said a recent ordinance that prohibited streetside parking in a Berkeley access point to the Trestle, and signs there, was one way the township is countering the problems nearby residents face.
“There’s so many accesses into the area, it’s hard to patrol. We send officers there, the kids just go to the lacey side,” she said to the resident at the January council meeting.
Township Planner Jim Oris spoke to the county’s involvement in the area, since it is proximate to the Ocean County Rail Trail system, a mostly north-south trail that uses much of an old rail line bed for a bike and walking trail, connecting areas south of Barnegat to what will eventually connect to Toms River.
“One of the things we’ve been talking to the county about is improvements to the rail trail and security for the area,” Oris said. “They did envision how to better secure the area. It’s in their queue, you would say.”
Still, with weather warming, activity is likely only to increase by the Trestle.
The Berkeley resident who spoke at the council meeting hopes something can be done: “It’s gotten so I don’t even want to bring my son with me there on my runs.”