BERLIN– Municipal officials this week approved plans for what is expected to be the final Berlin Jeep Jam to be held at the former Tyson property.
On Monday, the Berlin Town Council voted 4-1 to lease the former Tyson property, now known as Berlin Falls Park, to Ocean City 4×4 LLC during August 24-27. Councilman Zack Tyndall voted against the lease, pointing out that it could set a precedent for requests at other parks.
“Outside of the uniqueness of Berlin Falls Park, we wouldn’t allow this at any other park,” Tyndall said.
According to town staff, Ocean City 4×4 LLC had asked to lease the 62-acre Berlin Falls Park to host the Berlin Jeep Jam that has been held there in years past. The event features an obstacle course, mud pit, children’s area and trail ride.
By leasing the property for the event, the town of Berlin would receive full sponsorship benefits and be paid $4,000. Jeep Jam organizers would be responsible for any trash associated with the event and would provide insurance. They’d be tasked with posting signs prohibiting alcohol and, according to Berlin Town Administrator Laura Allen, agreed to provide a free shuttle from the property to downtown Berlin during the event.
“They will ensure vehicles that leave the property are rinsed,” Allen said, adding that the water in the ponds at Berlin Falls Park would not be disturbed.
“We did this last year and it went smoothly,” Mayor Gee Williams said, adding that event organizers were in the process of finding a permanent location for the Jeep Jam now that Berlin Falls Park was owned by the town.
Tyndall pointed out an event like the Jeep Jam wouldn’t be permitted at any of the town’s other parks and expressed concern over setting a precedent.
“Let me remind you we’re not the Supreme Court,” Williams said. “We don’t set precedents.”
He went on to say that Berlin Falls Park was a unique property.
“It’s not a traditional park,” he said. “It can provide a lot of activities, events and services that aren’t appropriate for a traditional park.”
He said the property “was not exactly the pride of the community” but that that would change as the town began to redevelop it.
“We’re gradually getting there,” he said. “We’re investing in our community. As we invest in the community so is the private sector. What we do with the other parks is very traditional. I don’t see this impacting that at all. This is a unique property.”
Williams said there were many events that wouldn’t be appropriate for Main Street that could be appropriate for Berlin Falls Park.
“We’re going to put that property to the best use we can,” he said. “This is part of the transition.”
He added that the town had consulted with its “environmental partners” and that the park would undergo a park restoration in the fall. He said that was not necessary because of the Jeep Jam but rather because the property had been untouched for 12 years.
When Tyndall asked whether the Jeep Jam would impact wildlife at the park, Allen said the town had received a letter from Jim Rapp and Dave Wilson of Conservation Community Consulting that expressed concerns about habitat damage, particularly for painted turtles. Allen met with event organizers and while they discussed changing the jeep route to avoid the painted turtle habitat, it was not deemed necessary.
“We went back to Jim and Dave they said basically if it was just for an additional year they’d be ok with it happening one more time,” Allen said.
Williams stressed that hosting the Jeep Jam at Berlin Falls Park one more time would not impact the property’s future, which has yet to be decided.
“It’s not like it’s going to happen overnight,” he said. “Here is an event that’s obviously very popular with this area.”
Amanda Cropper of Ocean City 4×4 LLC added that a 50-50 raffle would be conducted during Jeep Jam and proceeds from it would be donated to Berlin Falls Park’s restoration.
Councilmembers Troy Purnell and Dean Burrell praised the Jeep Jam. Burrell even said he’d like to see it held at Berlin Falls Park every year.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if by some means your event could be integrated into Berlin Falls Park?” he said. “It brings folks to town. The folks that come to town present no problems.”
Tyndall was the only councilmember to vote against leasing the property to Jeep Jam organizers.
“I see it as a park,” he said.
Williams told him the town had worked on acquiring the once-industrial property for years.
“We did not do it strictly as a park,” Williams said. “We’re not going to go back on our word. We’re obligated to do what we said we were going to do.”