By Neil Schulman
Long Branch — After a lacrosse event at Manahassett Creek Park hosted twice as many teams on site as organizers claimed, closed off the parking lots and non-athletic fields, and made the roads impassible with out-of-state cars parked there, Long Branch is no longer renting out the fields to for-profit agencies.
At the July 14 City Council meeting, area resident Maureen Altenau described the “chaotic and dangerous” situation the lacrosse event had created in the neighborhood around the park at events in June and again last weekend. Mayor John Pallone said he had investigated, and found it very problematic.
Altenau said that the girls’ lacrosse event had so many attendees that roads around the park were turned into one-lane streets. “Both sides were packed with cars,” she said, and she saw cars that needed to go in reverse and back to an intersection to let other vehicles pass.
Cars were also parked up to the corner of the streets. She had to inch out into intersections to see oncoming trafffic. “I almost hit a little girl on a bike,” she said.
Pallone said when he went down after receiving complaints where he saw similar problems, including out-of-state cars speeding down packed residential neighborhood roads.
Last weekend, the parking lot was closed off to the public, reserved only for college coaches. Residents and those who needed access to handicapped parking spots could not get into the park. Pallone said that the organization also took over more than just the athletic fields for lacrosse games, closing off the baseball fields, concession stands and walking trails, though they did not have the authority to do so.
On Sunday, the city made some changes, bringing in special police officers to issue traffic summonses and requiring the lot to be open. But Pallone said they don’t want a repeat of what happened.
“I can tell you this type of event is not going to happen again,” he said.
City Administrator George Jackson said the applicants, a for-profit organization, told the recreation department they were holding a “young ladies lacrosse tournament.” In reality, it was “a college showcase for college scouts” for “dozens and dozens of very high end universities up and down the coast.”
Out of state cars from Virginia to Massachusetts could be seen parked along the streets.
Long Branch had been told that to manage crowds, only half the teams would play at one time. Jackson says this often helps, as half the players stay away from the field until it’s their time to play. But in this case, the students wanted to be there to impress the scouts, so everyone showed up and stayed all day.
“We had a mob there,” he said.
Pallone said that the recreation department felt it had good reasons to accept the application. The organization made a donation to the city’s lacrosse team, and hotels have been struggling and this was a welcome boost in visitors for them. But the downsides far outweighed this.
For the moment, Long Branch is no longer renting out Manahassett Creek Park fields to for-profit organizations for these events. It may reconsider this stand in the future, Pallone siad, though it has already turned down a request from this particular organization for a third tournament later this summer.
Jackson said the park is a tempting place to hold a tournament. However, the neighborhood isn’t set up to handle that sort of parking.
“We have a state-of the art facility that is highly desirable… in a very developed community.”