The long, cold, lonely New Jersey Shore winter doesn’t do much to tempt tourists, but at local campgrounds, it’s been open season for thieves, according to shorenewstoday.com.
With a half-dozen golf carts among the missing, seasonal campers say they’ve had enough.
“It’s not right, people are stealing from the campers,” said Samantha Rappas, who maintains a seasonal campsite at Pine Haven Campground on Route 9 in Ocean View. “People are getting really upset about this.
Sgt. Neil Hydock of the New Jersey State Police headquarters in Woodbine said six carts have been stolen in recent months. Campgrounds, which are private property and closed through the winter, make attractive targets for thieves, he said.
“We have an ongoing case in the area,” Hydock said. “We do an active patrol as best we can, but people are able to get in during the night and steal.”
Hydock advised those leaving items behind to make sure that objects are adequately secured.
“Most of the golf carts that were stolen were haphazardly locked or not locked,” he said. “We understand that people should be able to leave a golf cart without worrying about it being stolen, unfortunately these things happen. If I lost a golf cart I would not be very happy either.”
A bad economy could be driving thieves.
“They take things that are worth money, they sell them to buy necessities, drugs, whatever,” he said.
Rappas said her golf cart was secured.
“Someone had to drive in through the only entrance and exit to the campground and then drove all the way to the rear,” she said. “Then they took my golf cart, which was wrapped and chained by an axle to the axle of my camper, loaded it on a trailer and drove it out, all without any witnesses,” she said. “Are you going to tell me that no one saw anything?” The main gate to the campground is locked, Rappas said. Residents can’t get in after Oct. 15 and can’t come back in until April, but the thieves were apparently able to get in, she said.
“Somebody had to see something,” said Rappas.
Rappas said she would not even know the golf cart had been stolen had a neighbor not experienced damage to her campsite.
“They let her in to see what happened, and she realized that her cart was gone, she called me and said ‘Sam, your cart was stolen and mine was too.’ I called the manager. This is all very upsetting,” she said.
Rappas said campers were afforded an opportunity to put their carts indoors.
“We always did in the past, they let us put them in what they call Piney Palace,” she said. “This year we couldn’t put them there, and they had a barn, but we were worried that the barn was not secure. It seemed like a big, strong lock on the golf cart would be enough considering that no one is supposed to be back there.”
Rappas added that she is now in the position of having to sue her insurance company for compensation for the stolen golf cart.
“They tell me they are not liable,” she said.
Terry Jordan, of Pine Haven, said the problem is occurring at campgrounds up and down the Jersey Shore.
“It’s not just in our area, a lot of campgrounds have the same issue,” he said. “We have turned it over to the state police. We have over 600 sites here, it’s a fun place and this is very unusual. We are hoping that the police will find the culprits.”
Rappas said her family has stayed at Pine Haven for several years. They pay $4,500 per season, which includes water, cable and the use of the swimming pool and other facilities. Campers provide their own trailer and pay for electric.
“It’s a great place,” she said. “My son loves it. We come down on weekends and all through the summer. My son can hang out with friends, ride his bike, it’s safe and it’s fun. We’ve never had a problem; now all of the sudden someone is targeting and stealing.”
The golf cart was utilized daily, she said.
“We park the car and leave it once we get here,” she said. “We drive the golf cart around, to the little store, to the pool, to go fishing, to the lake. It’s great, but if you don’t have a cart you can’t drive it around.”
“Campers pump a lot of money into the local economy,” she added. “We go to the beach, to the Boardwalk, to the stores. Campers are very important to Cape May County.”
Hydock said state police are working very hard to find the stolen carts.
“When things like this happen, it’s usually someone in the community that helps us find the stolen items,” he said. “There are four of us here at any given time, but there are thousands of residents in the area. I would ask people to be on the lookout. If you see something that doesn’t look right, call us.”
“If you see that someone all of the sudden has a used golf cart, I would encourage you to call the state police,” he added.
Rappas has started a Facebook page called Stolen in New Jersey.
“I could not find a comprehensive data base of stolen items, so I started this in the hopes that someone will see my golf cart and apply for the reward,” said Rappas. “I’m also inviting people to post their stolen items. We hope that it will grow and be helpful.”