To the Editor,
At a recent Milford Township council meeting there was an agenda item to redesignate the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area as a National Park. This presentation was given by John Donahue, former DWGNRA Superintendent and currently a spokesperson for the New Jersey Sierra Club. The NJ Sierra Club is pushing this proposal.
The thing that struck me about this proposal was the lack of detail as to how this would be implemented and what benefit there is for the communities in and around the Recreation Area. There is also nothing indicating what the the economic and infrastructure requirements and impact would be. Instead, the materials talk about “potential benefits”, or that NY, NJ, and PA “deserve” a National Park. This leaves many critical questions unanswered.
According to Mr. Donahue: “Creating the park and preserve with the correct designations and maintaining the traditional activities, including hunting and fishing within the preserve, will preserve the original intention of Congress to create equity in nature based recreational opportunities for the now 60 million people living nearby......”. Really? How do we accommodate this equity in nature? Does that mean we plow under half the recreational area for additional parking to accommodate the expected influx of visitors!?
It was stated that the National Park portion would be ~10% of the total recreation area and that means we will lose 10% of the economic revenue that we derive from Hunters and Fishermen. Also troubling is the fact that this area is not yet defined. Does that happen after the bill is passed? The other 90% will be designated a “Preserve”, which on multiple occasions was referred to as the Lenape Preserve. I’m somewhat confused by this. Mr. Donahue has had one meeting with a representative from the Lenape Nation and no specific details were forthcoming as to what their involvement would be if any since they were displaced to Oklahoma and Wisconsin, and I believe Canada.
Also of interest is the statement that, The Lenape National preserve will receive priority for the addition of new lands until the amount of acreage used in the creation of the Delaware River National Park has been replaced by those new lands acquired from willing sellers or donors. The problem here is that Congress does NOT have to abide by any of this language. They could decide to invoke eminent domain if they so choose to add additional lands needed to offset the National Park portion.
The other benefit touted was economic, in that the area would see a significant increase in visitors. This of course brings up our infrastructure or lack thereof. We all know the Sawkill/209 Bridge has a limited number of cars/trucks left in it and replacement won’t start till 2024. Add to that our already crowded two lane roads and we end up looking like the Long Island Expressway at rush hour. And what additional strain would that put on our police and ambulance services with this influx of visitors? According to this proposal, the increase in visitors will allow for the needed infrastructure to be built. But what number of visitors do we need to achieve that and how many years do we suffer with our existing infrastructure? Also, by becoming a National Park what people enjoy now for free could cost them a fee.
As for funding, being designated a National Park does NOT automatically give the National Park Service more money to work with nor full staffing to accommodate the anticipated uptick in visitors. We all know that NPS has suffered for many years with a shortage of rangers and funds for maintenance. And as Mr. Donahue stated the designation of a National Park, “.....will allow the park to compete more successfully for appropriated funds.”. Note the word compete!! There will be no guarantees on funding!
I don’t see a single paragraph, sentence or word in this proposal that validates the redesignation of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to a National Park.
I am heartened that surrounding Counties, Townships and Boroughs in PA and NJ have come together to address this significant issue before it’s jammed into an appropriations bill and passed. I would ask that you contact your Congressional Representatives and tell them this cannot pass without more detailed information so that an informed decision can be made.