Residents in the Chesters and Washington Township know just how beautiful and idyllic the area’s scenery can be, especially in the fall.
And for out-of-towners who don’t know about the beauty, it seems like each fall weekend they descend on the area – in droves, creating traffic and delays for miles – to see it.
The battle between local residents, visitors, and rural roadways came to a head on Columbus Day weekend, as Rt. 513 in Chester Township and Borough was clogged during the mid-day rush for hours.
But it’s not intentional and the idea of being a “good neighbor” is one that Kurt Alstede, owner of Alstede’s Farm on Rt. 513 in Chester Township, takes seriously.
“There’s a lot of volume on the weekends in the fall,” Alstede said. “And I know we’re one of the reasons for it. But we work that balance between stimulating the local economy and being good neighbors.”
Alstede, who grew up in the area and has served on local governing bodies as well as being active in the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, said he’s dedicated to “doing things properly” and making sure his business does what it can to alleviate the issues.
Historically, Alstede said, Columbus Day weekend is the pinnacle of agro-tourism in the area, and expects about a 30-percent drop in traffic this weekend, and even further during the final weekend of October.
That didn’t change his mindset that something needed to be done, however.
At a Tuesday meeting with local police and members of the Chester Township Committee, Alstede outlined a new, experimental plan he would put in place this weekend, and explained what the business will try and accomplish for the 2014 season.
On Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19 and 20, Alstede will close its main entrance at noon and filter visitors onto the farm through alternative entryways for the rest of the day. Alstede has also hired an additional officer to help assist with traffic.
“We’re going to help in whatever way we can,” the lifelong farmer said. “I don’t believe in creating traffic and at the very least we can address the cars coming in and out of our place.”
“Too much traffic can actually be bad for business,” said Chester Township Mayor Bill Cogger, a business owner himself. “But we essentially have 14 days a year of very heavy traffic in town.”
Cogger said resident complaints have been minimal, if any this year, but doesn’t want the volume to reach an irritable point for locals. The mayor pointed out a variety of other locations – Riamede Farm, Stony Hill Farm, Ort Farms, Hacklebarney Cider Mill – all contribute to the influx of tourists on weekends.
“I’m very supportive of the economic activity these weekends bring to the area, but the town will do whatever it can to help alleviate the traffic,” he said. Cogger mentioned the township is somewhat limited in its action due to Rt. 513 – where Alstede’s Farm is located – being a county roadway.
The economic impact to the area because of the high volume is not lost on the local businesses, of course.
"Chester Borough merchants are benefitting from the traffic caused by Ort Farms, the Cider Mill, Stoney Hill and Alstede Farms," Chester Mayor Bob Davis said. "Since this is a very short event that will only last about three more weeks, we need to be patient."
Davis said he's been in contact with Cogger and both towns are working on finding a solution together.
Cogger applauded Alstede’s effort to help do what he can to ease the traffic woes.
“Some business owners will just throw their hands up and say it’s not their problem,” Cogger said. “Kurt didn’t say that at all. He took the other approach and is making the financial investment to fix the problem.”
Chester Township is home to 48.8-percent preserved land, a figure Cogger is proud of and hopes will hit 50-percent of the municipality’s open space.
It’s the lack of hustle and bustle that brings city and suburban residents out to the country, Cogger and Alstede said.
As the volume grows, Alstede said he knows a change needs to be made, and is taking on an “ambitious” project heading into next season.
Visitors to the farm will begin flowing out of Alstede’s Farm onto Rt. 513 at the Smokey the Bear sign, filtering from different parking lots. The project will involve adjoining parking lots on the property and removing a barn that stands in the way.
“We must get cars off the road sooner,” Alstede said. “Once they’re on the property and off the main road, the traffic will lessen.”
Currently the farm uses 13 private security personnel to handle traffic inside the property to direct vehicles both entering and exiting.
Editor's note: This article was amended from its original version to include statements from Chester Mayor Bob Davis.
What do you think of the changes? Will they help this year and next?