A Discussion on the Proposal to Re-designate The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to a National Park and Preserve
by Kristin Albrecht
The proposal to redesignate the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA) to a National Park and Preserve touts several main reasons that it should be done: Prestige, Protection, Equity, and Honoring the First Nations People. Below, each of these points are addressed in detail. It is my hope that this document can help educate the public, and our public officials, on the many reasons this proposal will not benefit DEWA, our area, and the people who live here.
“Prestige” to bring more Funding
The proposal puts forth the premise that a redesignation will bring DEWA more funding. There is absolutely no guarantee of funding by virtue of a designation change. Funding for NPS units is based on a complicated rubric involving the size of the unit, the infrastructure demands of the unit, the personnel necessary to manage the unit, visitation numbers, and more. National Park Designation is irrelevant to this funding rubric. Of the 423 NPS units across the Nation, 2 of the top 5 funded units are National Recreation Areas, and DEWA itself ranks 27th in funding, ahead of 423 NPS units including 48 National Parks. Yes, DEWA needs better management and better funding, but this can be done WITHOUT changing the designation and bringing an estimated 600,000 to one million new visitors each year.
For an example, we can look to New River Gorge in West Virginia. New River Gorge was redesignated from a Recreation Area to a National Park and Preserve in 2020 on an omnibus Covid Bill (the CARES Act). Since then, the park unit has received no additional funding, with an increase of visitors putting additional stress on the infrastructure of the park as well as local EMS services. A more in-depth article on the subject can be read HERE.
Further, DEWA currently has a deferred maintenance backlog of $260 million. The NPS currently has a $22 billion deferred maintenance backlog nationwide. The chances of DEWA receiving $260 million for the necessary repairs and improvements to accommodate current visitor numbers, plus additional funding to expand on infrastructure to accommodate an increase in visitation seems highly unlikely. There is currently a 5 year gap between request for funding, and receiving that funding, providing it is granted.
A note on visitation numbers: The NPS, and the proposal, claim that DEWA receives 4.5 to 5 million visitors per year, as many as Yellowstone National Park. Evenly divided by 365 days, this equates to over 13,000 visits per day. If we take out three months of winter, that number jumps to 18,000 visitors per day. Where are all these visitors? We certainly experience an overflow of parking and crowds during the summer season, but any visit to a National Park out west, with thousands of cars backed up, giant parking lots, shuttle bus services, and in some cases, timed entry to visit, will put that number into perspective. A quick google search of “Yellowstone crowds” will illustrate this point.
So how does the NPS arrive at this visitation number? In DEWA, daily commuters and anyone traveling Route 209 through the park are counted towards this visitation number. In fact, one car with one person in it will count for as many as 13 visits to the park. An investigative report on this topic can be read HERE.
The proposal states that “Creating the park and preserve…will fulfill the original intention of Congress to create equity in nature-based recreational opportunities for the now 60 million people living nearby.” They stress that people deserve to have a National Park.
The people whom this park services already have a National Park Service unit in DEWA. The Recreation Area is a protected NPS unit. People deserve to have a place that is equipped to accommodate their visit - something that is achieved through lobbying for funding, not a designation change.
Additionally, there are over 4,200 municipal, state and township parks and other recreation areas within New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania where residents and visitors have the opportunity to recreate. DEWA is not the only destination for these activities.
Recreation Areas are among the most DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Justice) positive units in the National Park Service system. DEWA hosts an incredibly diverse array of visitors and recreation activities including hiking, boating, kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, bicycle riding, forest bathing, etc—most of which are entirely free of cost, making its activities extremely equitable—and includes as many recreational opportunities as possible. A change to a National Park can only REDUCE this diversity, equity, and inclusiveness, the most obvious being any fees introduced for entry to a park that is currently free to visit. The variety of activities would be reduced, as there are more restrictions on activities permitted and barriers to access in a National Park.
DEWA, as a National Recreation Area, currently enjoys one of the highest levels of protection of any National Park Service unit. When pressed, Mr. John Donohue, the author of the proposal, admitted that the only additional level of protection would be the loss of hunting within the National Park area.
National Parks, National Preserves, and National Recreation areas are all open to natural resource extraction including oil, gas, and water. A designation change would not provide more environmental protection to DEWA, and could actually make the area more vulnerable and available to resource extraction.
“Honoring the First Nations People”
The NJ state recognized Ramapough-Lenape who currently reside in this area would not be honored with the creation of a Lenape Preserve, as they are not federally recognized. Mr. Donohue has only recently met with representatives from these tribes, and will say that he came away with “great insight”, yet fails to mention that they are adamantly opposed to a re-designation. An article reporting on that can be read HERE.
Use of Eminent Domain:
The proposal states that “The National Park and Preserve is authorized to accept or acquire additional lands from willing sellers and donors to enhance large landscape scale connectivity, to address climate adaptation, to create wildlife corridors, and watershed protection, and to provide recreational equity for the millions of Americans living in urban and suburban areas within a day’s travel.“
The proponents of this proposal have expressed their desire for the National Park and Preserve to expand from its current 70,000 acres to 270,000 acres to possibly include Stokes State Forest, Worthington State Forest, High Point State Park, PA State Game Lands, with connecting corridors between them, acquiring property from private landowners. This brings up the possibile use of eminent domain by the federal government, devastating lives and communities. We only have to look back to Tocks Island to understand how “willing sellers” are created. With a loss of private property and comes the loss of taxes collected on that property, affecting our education systems. Impact Aid (intended to offset this loss) must be re-applied for each year, and has been significantly decreasing every year. Any loss of tax base in our communities puts an increased burden on those remaining.
Lack of Details:
There is no clear plan disclosed to the public. The proposal lacks any detail as to changes in Park boundaries, permitted uses, fees, and visitation, as well as impacts on local environment, economy, and infrastructure. There are no economic or environmental impact statements. No entities should be supporting any proposal without this detailed information.
A few points in conclusion:
The NJ Sierra Club has withdrawn their support
Ultimately, neither Mr. Donohue nor the local Sierra Club, the authors and proponents of this proposal, has jurisdiction on how a NPS Unit is managed or expanded upon.
For a complete list of those who oppose, including members of the NJ and PA State Senates, as well as local and Congressional representatives, please visit the homepage of our website, nonationalpark.org
While we recognize the need for increased funding for DEWA, a designation change is not the answer. It will attract more visitors to the area by virtue of name only, without the necessary infrastructure both inside and outside of the Park to support the increased visitation numbers. Our EMS system will be put under further strain, with no additional funding from the federal government.
There are currently 20+ townships, boroughs, and counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania who have passed resolutions to oppose this re-designation until we have more funding and more information available for public review and comment.
Thank you so much for your time and attention. For more information, follow us on Facebook “No National Park” or find us online at nonationalpark.org