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Fix Our Parks coalition calls on Gov. Murphy to fund New Jersey’s park system

State Parks and Historic Sites are in desperate need of maintenance.

ALLAMUCHY TOWNSHIP, NJ (Warren County) – Several advocates of the Fix Our Parks Campaign Thursday called for increased state funding to protect natural and cultural sites on public lands, like the abandoned Morris Canal Lock 4 Tender’s House in Allamuchy Mountain State Park.

Fix Our Parks is requesting more state resources to better maintain public lands, increase staffing, and strengthen enforcement of existing laws and regulations statewide.

In a report commissioned by Fix Our Parks, Dr. Michael Van Clef of Ecological Solutions LLC, found that New Jersey’s state parks, historic sites, and forests, are staffed at historically low levels. The report also showed that the funding levels for New Jersey parks are not only below neighboring states, but also less than the national average.

From the State Lands Management Report: “New Jersey parks face significant challenges. Staffing has decreased by 28% since 2006, leading to reduced services including seasonally staffed or closed nature centers, swim areas closing early, and delayed storm cleanup. There are now only 15 Park Superintendents responsible for over 50 parks. For naturalists and historians, there are now less than ten full-time staff across the entire system, which leads to an undervaluing of parks by the public. The ratio of Park Service staff to visitors is 1 to 36,000 and there is 1 Forest Service staff for every 5,500 acres of land. In addition, there has been a 13% increase in acquired park acreage since 2008. The combination of reduced staffing and increased lands requiring management is severely stressing the park system. Some have said that ‘collapse’ is inevitable and these trends are demoralizing remaining staff. It is certain that the integrity of park resources has been significantly reduced.”

Similarly, state wildlife management areas, while above average in terms of providing access for hunters and anglers, have below average levels of development, including signage to identify their location, compared to the rest of the country.

“Many of our state’s most significant historic resources are on public lands. State parks and historic sites are recreational and educational assets that bring residents and visitors closer to nature and our heritage, and also do double-duty as economic drivers for tourism in our state’s rural regions,” says Alan Hunt, Director of Policy for the Musconetcong Watershed Association and Director of the regional Great Waters New Jersey campaign that promotes the conservation and recreational use of the region’s rivers and lakes.

“New Jerseyans love their parks and depend on them for mental and physical health benefits, as well as the economic value they add to communities. While our government is strong in public land acquisition, through the Green Acres program, over the last 12 years it has lagged behind New York and Pennsylvania in park operations and maintenance. It seems like we are missing out on the value that high quality, well funded, and well maintained State Parks add to our quality of life” said Jason Howell, Public Lands Advocate with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance “Governor Murphy can fix this. The annual Operations Budget needs to increase by $16 million a year to be on par with neighboring states, and to end the maintenance backlog in ten years, by 2033, an additional $40 million per year needs to be added to the Capital Budget.”

“The Morris Canal is a National Historic Landmark, an engineering marvel that utilized basic physics to raise and lower canal boats in the 1820s over 900’ of vertical mountain elevation, from Jersey City to Phillipsburg. Think of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education possibilities in every canal community. Instead, the structures that demonstrate these engineering principles are literally crumbling and rotting into the ground,” said Joe Macasek, President of the Canal Society of New Jersey. Pointing to the dilapidated Lock Tender’s House, Mr. Macasek stated, “There are only a handful of Lock Tender Houses left in the state. We can’t afford to lose unique historic buildings like this.”

“In addition to recreational assets and amenities, many of our parks have significant historical resources. It is our responsibility to preserve and protect the connections to our past and use them to tell the stories of New Jersey’s history. At this location was a lock on the Morris Canal. Very few remnants of the Morris Canal exist today, so this lock tender’s house is an important point of reference to our past. That it is in a state park should mean it is protected, preserved and well-used to interpret an important era. Unfortunately, that is not the case here,” noted Elliott Ruga, Policy and Communications Director of the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. “We are calling for better funding and for more volunteer opportunities so that vital connectors to our past are not lost by negligence.”

“The state must dedicate more resources in the annual budget to law enforcement on public lands. Parks and forests provide critical habitat for over 1,000 species of New Jersey’s rare plants and animals, and we need stronger measures to protect these habitats from destructive activities like illegal off-road vehicle use, including more law enforcement officers and stricter enforcement of existing laws and regulations,” said Dr. Emile DeVito, Manager of Science and Stewardship for the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The Fix Our Parks Campaign is a statewide effort that today highlighted the needs of state historic sites and state parks. Along the Musconetcong River, running from Lake Hopatcong to the Delaware River are more than 60 public river access points, most of which are owned by the State.

The Morris Canal Lock 4 boat ramp is one of these sites. The site was improved to provide river access, however, the adjacent Lock 4 Tender’s House, a wooden-frame structure from the early 1800s, is in disrepair. Once proposed for an Interpretive Center, to be operated by a Friends of the Canal group, the building sits empty, with broken windows, peeling paint, and a collapsing roof.

State parks and historic sites have a maintenance backlog estimated at $400 million, which could be cleared by 2033 if the state spent $40 million more per year in maintenance.

The Musconetcong Watershed Association, Highlands Coalition, The Pinelands Preservation Alliance, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, and the D&R Canal Watch are calling on Governor Murphy to increase funding for parks, historic sites, forests, and wildlife management areas statewide.

To read the report and learn more about the campaign, click here.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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