The Far Hills Race Meeting is a highlight of the social season in the Somerset Hills, drawing some 40,000 spectators from near and far to enjoy fall weather, feasting and steeplechase horse racing at an event that also is an important fundraiser for the Somerset Medical Center.
But while those attending the event are looking forward to the event as an enjoyable party, local police departments are gearing up not with picnic baskets, but with plans to put on extra patrols to deal with the issues that arise when so many people converge on a tiny rural borough surrounded by neighboring communities — all with the intention of having fun.
Far Hills Borough, which hosts the annual event, receives funding by the event organizer, Somerset Medical Center and Moorland Farms to pick up the cost of bringing in extra police and for security within the event itself, said Far Hills Police Chief Ken Hartman.
"The Far Hills Police Department has approximately 20 officers on patrol directly for incidents around the Moorland Farms area," Hartman said in an email on Wednesday. Inside Moorland Farms, located along Route 202 just north of the road's intersection with Route 512, another 200 officers are hired and assigned to a variety of tasks, he said.
"While the event is a great way to raise money and to enjoy the beauty of the area in Moorland Farms, we have a responsibility to curb illegal activity, disorderly behavior and traffic and pedestrian control," the Far Hills Chief said.
Other neighboring communities do not receive supplemental funding for their extra police responsibilities. Nevertheless, those towns also feel the impact of those who may be coming either in private vehicles, by train, or parking their vehicles near train stations in communities such as Bernardsville and Basking Ridge and then taking the train the last few stops into Far Hills.
"We deal with it every year," said Bernardsville Police Chief Kevin Valentine. "Obviously, there's issues created in town."
In 2011, Valentine said Bernardsville Borough spent $3,450 to pick up 88 extra hours of police manpower for traffic and parking enforcement, and for officers assigned to look for drivers under the influence of alcohol.
Last year, Valentine said that Bernardsville issued 25 summonses for traffic enforcement and one arrest was made with the charge of driving under the influence. In addition, police wrote out two other violations of borough ordinances, including one complaint of lewdness and the other for possession of an open container of alcohol.
Police will be vigilant on Saturday about enforcing the two-hour parking limit on borough streets, especially since he said that local businesses will be open for a regular day on Saturday, and need a place for customers and others to park.
Valentine said the Bernardsville Fire Co. benefits from the races, however, since the town allows that all-volunteer organization to raise funds by charging for parking at the Bernardsville train station that day.
Bernards Township and Bedminster Township also add extra officers
Bernards Township Police Chief Brian Bobowicz said that department reassigns patrol units to address the increase in traffic on the southern end of the township, where racegoers may be heading up to Far Hills.
The police also add on increased property checks at local train stations in Lyons and Basking Ridge, the chief said.
Additionally, Bobowicz said, four officers have been assigned to DWI patrols, using funds through a state grant for such patrols.
Bedminster Township Police Chief Pat Ussery said that municipality has jurisdiction on only a small piece of the site where the races will take place, namely where the border between Far Hills and Bedminster goes straight from the river.
Each year for the races, Ussery said, the department puts two officers in that area for Bedminster enforcement and to aid in maintaining the peace.
"All hands on deck" in Bedminster Village
“We are ‘all hands on deck’ in Bedminster Village on that day, as there is a pretty significant amount of traffic and pedestrian traffic making its way to and from the event, which often sees crowds of 40,000 plus,” Ussery said. “There is a pretty significant traffic slow down as the event fills up and exits, but it generally keeps moving due to some traffic management that has evolved over the years.”
Ussery said that parking is regulated during the event, but there are several larger parking lots throughout the township where guests can pay a fee to park for the day and then walk to the races.
“The atmosphere can be a little rowdy, as a good many spectators have been tailgating all day,” Ussery said. “The beefed up police presence generally keeps the situation orderly.”
Hartman said it is sometimes a difficult task to balance the need to keep the peace locally and also to allow fun at a fundraiser that he said he hopes again raises much money for Somerset Medical Center in Somerville. The medical center even named its Steeplechase Cancer Center after the event, which has raised many millions of dollars through the decades.
Along with police in uniform, there will be plain clothes officers making arrests and on the lookout for any drug use, underage consumption of alcohol and disorderly behavior, Hartman said.
He added police want residents and the public to report problems to 9-1-1, and not to take matters into their own hands with any disorderly behavior. "We will respond to assist you," Hartman said.
He said racegoers should enjoy the day, keeping in mind that the police department will have a no-tolerance policy in place for inappropriate behavior in the borough.