A crowd overflowed the bar area of the Waterwheel Cafe last week when John Donahue, former Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) Superintendent defended a proposal to change the DWGNRA designation to national park. He is now a spokesperson for the New Jersey Sierra Club and presented their proposal authored by him. The national park he advocated would be known as the Delaware River National Park and Lenape National Preserve.
Donahue cited several benefits to the change. Among them was “the prestige of becoming a national park– the highest type of protection of our natural resources. It would make people more aware of the spectacular natural features of the area.” Another benefit he mentioned was an increase in tourism and the concomitant economic boom it would create.
He cited New River Gorge, a national recreation area in West Virginia that drew an additional 600,000 visitors when it became a national park. This could mean that local tourism in the area would reach over a million.
He also mentioned that while people thought hunting would be banned in a national park, huntable areas could be added to the “preserve” area next to the park. Third, he mentioned that having a national park would encourage private investment around the area. Donahue urged people to read the actual proposal on his website: www.delvalpark.org.
When he lauded the potential tourism growth of 600,000 as a benefit, a gasp was audible in the room. As people became angry, opposition to the proposal became clear, although the event was billed as a “pro” presentation, hosted by Delaware Valley Action!.
When Donahue said that a grass roots movement supported his proposal, someone shouted out, “Not a grass roots movement– there are 4,000 people against it.”
Many expressed concern about inadequate local infrastructure for the influx. Kristin Albrecht mentioned that if the land became a national park and preserve, it would be open to natural resource extraction, where sand, gravel, rock, oil and natural gas could be obtained by excavation.
In June, Delaware Valley Action organization (DVA!) had hosted a presentation by Albrecht, of the Delaware Water Gap Defense Fund, against the Sierra Club’s proposal to change the designation of DWGNRA to a National Park.
Albrecht’s website, www.nonationalpark.org posts a copy of the Sierra Club proposal and explains in detail the problems it presents. She lists 14 municipalities in New Jersey and six in Pennsylvania that oppose it. Albrecht also points out that if emergencies arise in the park, the first responders and EMS services will not be available for local residents.
Frustration in the room was palpable. Ed Gragert, head of DVA!, reminded people to be courteous and let Donahue speak. It further escalated when Donahue reminded people that they were making speeches, not asking questions. Toward the end of the presentation, one woman raised her hand and said, “Mr. Donahue, I have two words for you– Go Home.”
Outside the Waterwheel, a small group of people gathered to continue the conversation. There Meg Rosenfeld (Democratic candidate for PA House of Representative for District 139 ) summarized her position:
She said, “ I don’t disagree with Mr. Donahue that we need additional funding to repair the infrastructure and roads, but I’m concerned about bringing in an influx of tourism that we can’t support right now. We lack the infrastructure for an increase in visitors. We don’t have a hospital, we don’t have urgent care, and we have an underfunded EMS which has to rely on community support or support from other townships.
It would be a foolish thing to do because we will see disaster, not only for local residents but for the tourists, and our town would not be able to survive that, in my opinion.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Lenape Chief Daniel Strongwalker Thomas noted, “Lenape communities have yet to be consulted by the DelValPark group, but I would welcome the opportunity to be invited into the conversation.“