Mayor shuts down short-term rentals, governor shuts down all state and county parks

Vernon. Vernon Mayor Howard Burrell has taken up new powers conferred by the state to close hotels, motels, guest houses, and rentals of private homes in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. In addition, New Jersey's Department of State Parks, Forests and Historic Sites has closed all state and county parks: too many people were congregating in the parks and ignoring social distancing guidelines.

Vernon /
| 07 Apr 2020 | 02:10

New powers for New Jersey's local and county governments to restrict short-term rentals took effect Sunday night, part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Vernon Mayor Howard Burrell said he has issued an order that restricts any “hotel, motel, guest house, or private residence, or parts thereof” in Vernon from accepting “new transient guests or seasonal tenants” after 4 p.m. on April 6 until further notice.

"This restricts Airbnb, other online marketplaces, and any other organization or individual from arranging or offering short-term rental lodging in Vernon Township," Burrell said. "I issued this order out of the concerns about an influx of new visitors to our town during the current public health emergency. Although Vernon Township ordinarily welcomes all visitors, at this time we must take all available steps to enforce social distancing recommendations and limit nonessential travel to our town."

In normal times, visitors are welcome in Vernon, Burrell said. Local merchants see their businesses prosper when temporary residents are in town.

Burrell said many residents have complained to him about visitors from areas labeled as “coronavirus hotspots" frequenting local stores and parks. They want the mayor to ask those who have already occupied their second homes in Vernon to leave, he said.

"My response to my constituents has been to inform them of the fact that as a mayor, I have no authority to prevent individuals, whose primary residents are in New York City or other locations, from coming to Vernon and living in second homes that they own," Burrell said. "The governor of New Jersey has 'urged' individuals to stay at their primary residents, and has specifically urged them not to leave their primary residents for the purpose of moving into those second homes/summer/temporary residences that they own in places like Vernon or in New Jersey shore towns."

The additional local authority conferred by the state does not extend to people housed under a state-led shelter effort, to those in temporary residence under emergency or other housing assistance, or to health care workers staying somewhere on a temporary basis.

Gov. Phil Murphy said shore communities have reported people trying to temporarily relocate there from areas hard-hit by the coronavirus spread, but those communities can lack the health care infrastructure that a surge in patients would require.

Murphy urged state residents to remain in their primary residences during the COVID-19 crisis.

All state and county parks are now closed

On April 7, New Jersey's Department of State Parks, Forests and Historic Sites has closed all state and county parks.

Gov. Phil Murphy said people were congregating in groups in parks. "To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, all residents have been directed to stay at home with limited exceptions and all gatherings of individuals have been prohibited," Murphy said.

He encourages New Jersey residents to exercise as long as it is done close to home.

"Walking, jogging, or riding a bike should be done in your neighborhood or your local park," said Murphy. "Do not travel to a park in another town."

Murphy said local jurisdictions may be impose tighter restrictions on municipal parks. For the latest updates on state parks and forests, visit

Mayor Burrell said the Vernon Police Department has been monitoring Maple Grange Park and the two key Appalachian Trail entry points in Vernon -- the boardwalk section off of Route 517 and the “Stairway to Heaven” entry point off of Route 94. However, the Appalachian Trail is now off limits where it enters a state or county park.

Burrell said park users have been found following the social distancing guidelines so far. "When users have been observed interacting in a group, inquiries have found that they have been primarily family members using the park as a way of getting out of the house for some mental/emotional relief," he said.

He said enhanced monitoring by "seems to have significantly reduced the number (but not all) of individuals who are choosing to ignore the electronic 'trail closed' sign and the snow fencing blocking easy entry to the boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail on Route 517."

"The problem with the boardwalk section of the Appalachian Trail is that the boardwalk is only four feet wide, and therefore, does not offer the opportunity for individuals to practice proper social distancing while walking the boardwalk," Burrell said.

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has not formally closed access at the “Stairway to Heaven” entry point, they have assigned park stewards who are limiting the number of individuals who can access the trail from this location at any single time, and are advising all trail walkers to practice social distancing, Burrell said.

"We Americans are a very self-reliant and individualistic group of people," the mayor said. "However, reducing the spread of this coronavirus is not something that we can do alone; we must all accept our responsibility to do our part by practicing social distancing, avoiding large crowds and gatherings, practicing good hand hygiene, and staying home if we are sick."