Published Oct 12, 2022
BY SANDY HULL
The controversy over the redesignation of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DWGNRA) to a national park and preserve has been actively brewing since February 2022. The proposal to do so is written by John Donohue, former superintendent of the DWGNRA, and sponsored by one New Jersey and one Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.
The first paragraph of Mr. Donohue’s proposal states the reason for the national park: prestige. Really. One must read on to wade through a vague list of proposed benefits, including a new visitor center, a Lenape Cultural and Educational Center, infrastructure improvements and facilities to host millions of potential park visitors in coming years. Funding for all these perks is not guaranteed and remains one of the unanswered questions.
A noted opponent of this proposal is the Delaware Riverkeepers Network, a watchdog of the quality of the Delaware River. Aside from the negative environmental and ecological impacts, questions regarding the impact of increased visitation and traffic on local communities bordering the park remain unaddressed. Sportsmen organizations on both sides of the Delaware remain adamantly opposed, due to loss of hunting and some fishing. Questions about licensing and fees remain unanswered.
The proposal dedicates 10 percent of the area as a national park (which means no hunting). Ninety percent will be a preserve open to hunting AND resource extraction, such as timbering, mining, gas and oil exploration.
How is information about the proposed park circulated outside the sporting and environmental communities? The website www.nonationalpark.org is updated weekly, or as needed, to keep folks aware of developments. Names and contact information for elected politicians in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are posted on the website as well as DC committees that may have a vote on the park issue. The Facebook page No National Park offers a forum where members can obtain and share information. Since February, the Facebook page has over 3,900 members.
Public hearings with Q & A sessions are important, so people can ask questions directly to the speaker(s) in the hope of getting correct information. That hasn’t always been the case with the supporters of the national park. At the Northwest New Jersey Rivers Conference, sponsored by the Highlands Coalition in New Jersey, Mr. Donohue stated that “we are putting a prohibition on entry fees to the park.”
Mr. Donohue does not have the authority to regulate entry fees. If this national park becomes a reality, neither Mr. Donohue nor the Sierra Club should have a say in policy or actions of the National Park Service.
Pennsylvania Sierra Club vice-chair Don Miles on camera states the park is his and John Donohue’s dream. While the proposal is centered on the existing recreation area of 72,000 acres, Mr. Miles talks about a 270,000-acre park. He also talks about incorporating existing federal and state lands and purchasing private lands as well. Please visit www.nonationalpark.org to view the film clip.
Whether or not other chapters of the Sierra Club support this proposal is unknown, since several written requests for information remain unanswered. Should the Sierra Club rethink its support of this proposal? Perhaps it should, in light of several obvious missteps by Mr. Donohue. His last statement during a radio interview on Pocono Radio 96.7 on September 21 was “We have the support of Congressman Gottheimer and Congressman Cartwright.” Both Congressmen have written public comments opposing the national park prior to Mr. Donohue’s statement.
Misleading statements seem to be a last-ditch effort to gain support for a proposal that clearly has no benefit to anyone, no detail or plan to carry out lofty ideals of “prestige,” and simply is not needed. The recreation area is protected now. What is needed is funding to address the current $162 million backlog of repairs and maintenance to ensure a quality experience for recreation area visitors.
This proposal will not be the last assault on DWGNRA. The Delaware Water Gap Defense Fund was established in perpetuity to prevent the efforts of any group or organization to change the designation of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area to that of a National Park; to preserve, protect and promote responsible resource management and diversity of recreational opportunities within the Delaware Water Gap. So be it.
Sandy Hull lives in Layton, NJ.
The original article can be viewed on the River Reporter Online HERE