Travel isn’t always about planes and hotels.
This summer in central Jersey, it may feel more like a drive down Interstate 78 and a hard cider robbery around a fire pit.
“I can’t tell you how many regulars come to our Asbury (Hunterdon) farm from Montclair every weekend for a date, to pick up meat and produce or attend one of our special dinners,” said Charles Rosen, founder of Ironbound Farm.
“They sit, eat and feel so deeply connected to our community. Maybe they were forced into it because of gas prices and costs, but I think they feel community in a way that we haven’t felt in two and a half years of isolation” , he continued. “I think people want to feel like they’re part of a community more than they’re like, ‘I need to get out of town.'”
With COVID-19 still lingering, unprecedented petrol prices and inflation as well as labor shortages, central Jersey destinations are expecting plenty of visitors this summer as people look forward to returning to a season full of festivals, outdoor attractions and restaurants.
A post-COVID rebound
Melissa DeFreest, vice president of tourism and communications at Somerset County Business Partnership, thinks many people will continue to take COVID precautions by masking up, social distancing and staying outdoors.
However, that doesn’t mean they’ll stay away from their favorite events, especially those finally making early returns like the Downtown Somerville Craft Beer Fest, the Rose Day Festival at Colonial Park, the Somerset County 4-H Fair and Somerset County Park. Commission Summer Concert Series.
“After two years, people are definitely missing their festivals and can just be outside,” she said. “They yearn for these events that have been canceled for the past two years.”
Rutgers Gardens, Rutgers University’s 108-acre botanical garden, is also expecting an increase in visitors as people continue to search for COVID-friendly outdoor activities. Staff have also noticed an increase in visitor numbers in 2020 and 2021, although as the garden has free entry and does not track its visitors, percentages are not available.
“We saw the popularity of the space increase during the early stages of the pandemic, when families were looking for safe and fun outdoor activities that they could easily access,” said Lauren Errickson, director of Rutgers Gardens. “I think we could see similar increases this year. A lot of outdoor activity trends are continuing, so people will likely continue to search for that.
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Errickson recommends garden visitors to visit his All-America Selections Garden, Donald B. Lacey Display Garden, Helyar Woods, and Cook’s Market, a farmer’s market held every Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Make the most of every mile
With high gas prices draining wallets, Errickson thinks Rutgers Gardens will see more local visitors this summer, especially since the botanical garden is near the New Jersey Turnpike.
“I think more local people will come here than in the past – hopefully we’ll see more of our neighbors visit,” Errickson said. “If people can drive here for five to fifteen minutes rather than spending an hour in the car, they can save money on gas, and also spend less commuting time and more time on site.”
To get the most out of any commute, DeFreest thinks more people will turn their destinations into day trips. She thinks people will combine more outdoor and indoor activities, such as spending a few hours at Duke Farms in Hillsborough before heading to downtown Somerville for dinner, a Friday night cruise or a summer Saturday night. . Other popular Somerset county destinations, she said, include Bridgewater Commons and Iron Peak Sports & Events in Hillsborough.
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“The day trips will become an overnight stay or a planned day trip, so they’re not just going to do a restaurant or a hike, they’re going to do the hike, the restaurant, the brewery and the shopping. They’re going to make a day out of it,” DeFreest said.
In Hunterdon County, it’s now a whole lot more organic – literally – thanks to the Hunterdon 579 Trail, a partnership and guide to farms, markets and wineries on a corridor centered on historic County Road 579, which winds extends from the Northwest Mountains to the Delaware River Valley. It has allowed the many agritourism businesses in the region to forge links and open the minds of visitors to neighboring destinations.
“People will say the duck fat bread on our charcuterie board is amazing and I’ll say, ‘It’s from Bobolink Dairy, and it’s eight minutes from here,'” said Rosen, who is also co-founder of Hunterdon 579 Trail. “I move people from my house to their house, and we all do it together. Incomes are up for all of us.
A busy season with fewer employees
However, these revenues are not without obstacles. The labor shortage continues, with New Jersey’s unemployment rate at 4.2% in April, the latest available figure. DeFreest said the shortage is still an issue in Somerset County, especially for hospitality businesses that thrive in the summer.
“Hopefully it won’t last, but people will probably have to get used to longer waiting times and different hours to be accommodated with the same level of service,” she said. .
DeFreest suggested people make restaurant reservations where possible or allow themselves a few extra minutes when traveling to events, as check-in lines can be longer.
Rosen said labor shortages are also an issue for Ironbound Farm, whether it’s looking to hire a farmer or a dishwasher.
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“I have to tell people, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have a table available’ and they say, ‘There’s a table right there.’ I have a 180 acre farm – I could put a lot of tables here. It’s not that, it’s that I don’t have anyone to serve this table,” Rosen said.
“People have expectations – it’s the good and the bad of becoming a more popular region,” he continued. “The good part is that people want to be here. The bad part is if they take an hour drive to be there and you can’t service them, they get frustrated. We all try to give the best experience.
Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member of the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, having become a blogger-turned-journalist after founding her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her food, drink and fun stories, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Contact: [email protected] or @JIntersimone.