Early this spring (2008) the Department of Environmental Protection announced plans to close or limit access to twelve of New Jersey’s 42 state parks on July 1, 2008. Seven out of the nine parks are in the Skylands of Northwest New Jersey. The closures represent about 45% of the state park acreage in the region. They include High Point in Sussex County: Jenny Jump, Worthington, and Stephens in Warren County; Round Valley in Hunterdon, D&R Canal in Hunterdon and Somerset, and Ringwood in Passaic.
The savings achieved by all of the closures would amount to $4.5 million - about one tenth of one percent of the upcoming state budget’s total $33 billion.
The decision to close the parks would affect the summer getaway plans of millions of people in the NJ-NY-PA metropolitan area. And with those plans would go the fortune of hundreds of businesses that depend on those visitors. State officials have long touted the expenditures of tourists as an ideal way to increase tax revenues while providing minimal services. Most of those visitors would simply move on to Pennsylvania and New York, states who will continue to happily court the incoming dollars.
Not only did the planned closures seem to fly in the face of any judicious financial planning, they seem to confict with years of open space acquistion and preservation policy. Proponents of the controversial Highlands Preservation Legislation have looked to increased recreatioinal use of natural resources in Northern New Jersey as a sustainable force in the region’s economic future.
The budget proposals, which came in response to New Jersey’s dire fiscal crisis, have since rejected. Never-the-less it is clear that we need to re-think our priorities if our state park system is to be used as a bargaining chip. The parks should be firmly implemented, not only as an important component of the state's aesthetic, but in the future of our regional economy.
What do you think? Please leave your comments here and we’ll pass them on. Or contact your legislator directly.