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February 21, 2023

Does Central Jersey really exist? New bill aims to formally define its borders

The region could include Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer and Ocean counties

Government Tourism
Central Jersey Bill Street View/Google Maps

A bill making its way through New Jersey's state legislature would formally establish the borders of Central Jersey and promote tourism in the region, which some residents argue doesn't exist. Pictured above is First Presbyterian Church in Lambertville, a small historic town in Hunterdon County that could benefit from investments in tourism.

An age-old debate in New Jersey could soon be settled. A bill making its way through the state legislature would formally declare the existence of Central Jersey, define its borders and promote tourism to the region. 

Many people are aware of the long-standing duel between North and South Jersey, but the possibility of a third region has been a long-standing question. While Jon Stewart and Gov. Phil Murphy have weighed in and declared that yes, Central Jersey does exist, others are not entirely convinced.

Introduced in January by Assemblyman Roy Freiman, a Democrat representing portions of Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex and Hunterdon counties, the bill would affirm the existence of Central Jersey and officially recognize it as one of the state's three tourism regions, alongside North and South Jersey. If passed, the bill would direct tourism officials to market each region based on its unique attractions in an effort to appeal to travelers headed into the state. 

As defined by the bill, Central Jersey would include Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Middlesex, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties. South Jersey would span Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, Salem, Cumberland and Cape May counties. North Jersey would include Sussex, Warren, Passaic, Bergen, Essex, Morris and Hudson counties. 

"From the iconic Jersey shoreline to our bustling, vibrant cities in the north and south, New Jersey is rich in historic and famed tourist attractions," Freiman said. "For too long, the heart of our state — home to our state capital, historic sites, and bucolic scenery — Central Jersey has not received the real attention it deserves." 

Although South Jersey includes the majority of the Jersey Shore and North Jersey can boast about its proximity to New York City and its expansive museums, Central Jersey lacks those unique characteristics. It does house the state capital and dozens of historic sites, including the William Trent House Museum in Trenton and Liberty Hall in Union. 

In October, the New Jersey Historic Trust voted unanimously to approve funding recommendations for 65 total projects at historic sites in the state, including 14 in Central Jersey. Some of the historic sites in the region are poised to receive up to $750,000 in funding for restoration and preservation, including First Presbyterian Church and Cemetery in Trenton. 

The bill is part of a larger legislative package designed to promote tourism and help New Jersey recoup economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. A state tourism report found that between 2020 and 2021, New Jersey saw a 14% increase in tourism, with tourists spending an estimated $37.3 billion in the state. 

Still, visitation remains 17% below its pre-pandemic levels, and officials are hoping that expanding tourism infrastructure will get New Jersey back to the place it was prior to COVID-19, Thrillist reported. 

Other bills in the package would create a tourism attraction trail sign program to help guide tourists to the states attractions, require annual reports on New Jersey's tourism industry and its economic impacts and establish the Agritourism Fund to provide grants to farmers looking to attract visitors. 

"Travel and tourism is a vital industry and an economic engine for the state generating thousands of jobs and attracting countless tourists each year," said Freiman. "Redefining New Jersey's tourism regions, looking at the way we fund tourism efforts, and delving into agrotourism will help us highlight both our world-famous attractions and hidden gems. These bills can lead to attracting more visitors, boosting local economies, and truly celebrating each and every corner of our state." 

The bill advanced out of the Assembly's Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee and Agriculture and Food Security Committee last week, and was referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for a vote before moving to the full Assembly. Though state Sen. Andrew Zwicker introduced an identical bill back in December, the legislation has not advanced. 

If passed, the bill is likely to be signed into law by Murphy, who jokingly used his authority as governor to declare Central Jersey's existence back in 2019.