BARNEGAT – When pirates docked in Barnegat, they left their ship to head further west. The change in course left some landlubbers calling for a mutiny on local authorities.
The 2021 edition of Pirates Day marked the 32nd time the Township of Barnegat hosted the event. Up until this year, the historical downtown area served as the backdrop for the scene.
Previously, upwards of 10,000 people walked shoulder to shoulder on East Bay Avenue and circled the corners. Some popped into restaurants or strolled into the Mason’s Lodge to grab a bite. Vendors lined the streets as lads and lasses searched for treasures to bring home.
Crowds didn’t necessarily deter guests pre-COVID-19, although these days, it certainly crosses the minds of many a buccaneer. The issue of safety, in general, represents yet another consideration.
Earlier this year, Barnegat’s Township Committee announced the change in venue for two significant events. First, Independence Day fireworks relocated from the docks and went off with a blast from the high school.
Pirates Day moved to the exterior of the Russell O. Brackman Middle School. The change created more open space, and included the erection of big bouncy pirate-themed blowups close to the assortment of vendors.
Controversy began even before the event started as some residents questioned the township committee about their decision to relocate Pirates Day. However, officials said their conversations with Police Chief Keith Germain convinced them they were acting in the best interest of the town and its residents.
“The prime directive of the township committee is the safety of its residents and its visitors,” said Mayor Albert “Al” Bille. “Therefore, at the recommendation of our head law enforcement officer, we found it logical to move to a safer environment.”
Social media went wild with claims that the police department was looking to make things easier on themselves. Some even suggested the impetus for moving the event was only because it represented a cheaper option.
Still others charged that changing venues had an adverse effect on downtown businesses.
Easily considered a seasoned seadog in the pirate world, Germain took to Facebook to set the record straight for the scallywags, who might be unaware of how the town keeps things shipshape.
“The primary reason that I made the recommendation when asked is because the event had simply grown too large to be held safely in the center of a town that has limited parking, intersects with a busy state highway, requires the closing of multiple public roads for nearly 12 hours, and has limited room for the event to take place,” Germain wrote.
“The thought that we could have the event at a safer location – and it might be cheaper to run at that safer location – was just an added bonus,” continued the chief.
Germain also reminded residents that the ultimate decision to move the event became the responsibility of the township committee.
“If the committee decided to hold it downtown, then we would do everything we could to provide for the safest, securest event possible,” said Germain. “I would think it was a bad decision. I would try my best to convince them not to do that. But once the decision is made, I work for you – not the other way around.”
Resident Patty Clark Brescia responded to Germain’s remarks by first thanking the local chief and department for their service. In the meantime, Brescia wants local government authorities to abandon ship at the Brackman School and return to the downtown area. She’s busy collecting a bounty of signatures on a petition for just that purpose.
“The new venue turned a charming celebration into a vendor fair,” Brescia wrote. “Being an optimist. I am hopeful that the township committee, along with the tireless efforts of the Recreation Dept combined with volunteer citizens and your expertise (the police department) can work together to restore this beloved event to all its former charm and glory.”
According to Barnegat’s Recreation Director, Jeannie Broadbent, the township plans to hold some smaller events in the downtown area. The Farmer’s Market continues to be a tremendous success, and October brings something new to the same location.
The Barnegat PBA hosts its Second Annual Goofy’s Fall Fest during the day on October 23rd. The event is a special one as it was established in honor of the late Barnegat Police Officer Alex Hoffman.
“Alex passed away when he was working off duty in Lakewood,” shared Barnegat Police Officer Tim Bradshaw. “Because he was off duty, his family did not see the same benefits that would have been awarded to someone who died while on the job.”
The proceeds from the event go to the Hoffman family. Two years ago, approximately 600-700 people came to Goofy’s Fall Fest. This year’s festivities include beer vendors, bands, and food trucks. There will also be free inflatables for the kids to enjoy.
Broadbent plans to wrap up the evening in the same area. The movie night traditionally scheduled at the docks will move to the firehouse field.
“We’ll be showing “Hocus Pocus,” said Broadbent. “The whole day and night should be a lot of fun.”
Broadbent also suggests that residents take note the many scarecrows that will likely show up in the downtown area. Last year, many businesses competed in the town contest designed to pick the best-dressed scarecrow in Barnegat.