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Pike County commissioners ask legislators to put brakes on national park proposal

To view the original article online, click HERE

Tri-County Independent

Published May 23, 2022

MILFORD — Pike County commissioners have notified federal legislators, urging them to take no action on approving a plan to create a full-fledged National Park out of part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area until more information is known.

Making further comment at their May 11th meeting, Commissioner Chairman Matthew Osterberg questioned why this proposal is being made now. The Sierra Club, New Jersey Chapter, states on their website that the timing is due to a shift in the political winds, the current legislative climate being more favorable to the concept.

"We are opposed to it at this point," Osterberg stated. He said that the reason is the vagueness of the plan, which does not really spell out what it would mean to the community to break the roughly 70,000 acres into the Delaware River National Park and Lenape Preserve. How many acres would be left in each section and just where the sections would be, have not been revealed.

The letters, dated April 28 and sent to Senator Robert Casey, Senator Patrick Toomey and Congressman Matthew Cartwright, state the following:

"We do not believe there is ample information and data available, at this time, to allow for such a decision. We hope you will agree that a specific plan outlining the economic, recreational, environmental, and agricultural impacts are required before decisions can be made regarding a change from a national recreation area to a national park and preserve."

The commissioners were responding to a proposal that is being promoted by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Chapters of the Sierra Club, to change the designation of Delaware DWGNRA.

This proposal is a recommendation of DWGNRA' s Vision 2023 first published in August of 2014.

John Donahue, who is a former superintendent of the DWGNRA, has been an advocate of this redesignation, and is now a consultant of the Sierra Club. Earlier this year, Donahue briefed the commissioners about the idea. The commissioners have also received numerous questions about this proposal from constituents, some of whom asked that they take a formal stand on the issue.

A lack of a specific plan as well as a map has the commissioners concerned. They pointed out to the legislators that that are not aware of anything to show how the proposed designation change would affect the land, the river and the people who use and enjoy the recreation area. One example is what impacts the proposal could have on hunting lands.

"There is no land use map available to show where hunting lands would be located within the proposed national park and where preserve lands would be located," their letter states. "Without such details, we do not feel a position can be reached on the proposal."

They formally asked that the legislators make no decision without the availability of sufficient information and a formal plan. In addition, they added, the economic impacts of the proposed designation change should be clearly shown. There needs to be ample time for review and comment by elected officials and citizens, the commissioners state.

"Such a significant change to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area can bring opportunities as well as challenges. Being well versed in those implications before forming a conclusion on the proposal is essential to a sustainable future," the letter states. The commissioners asked the legislators to alert them and affected municipal leaders if any proposed legislation that comes before Congress or is submitted to the legislators for consideration.

They also asked the legislators for their position on this proposal raised by the Sierra Club.

At the commissioners' meeting, Osterberg summed their action with, "All we're saying right now is put the brakes on this and show us some maps…. What is the underlying reason why this should be changed? … Why is it being changed? What is wrong with it now?"He noted that this proposal is not being drawn up by the National Park Service (NPS) but rather by the Sierra Club and some other organizations. "Why are they so interested in changing this? We don't know the answer to that," Osterberg said.

The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club first spearheaded the redesignation effort 10 years ago, but since then the political landscape has changed, the chapter notes on their website.

"The U.S. congressional representative for the New Jersey section of the park is currently Josh Gottheimer, who fully supports national park designation," the site reads. "We are working to get this legislation passed in the current session... Congress only needs to re-designate the park and create the boundary. The change could happen as simply as with the attachment of a rider to an appropriations bill. "

The website for Sierra Club, Pennsylvania Chapter, did not have a statement concerning the re-designation proposal. A message was sent to the chapter requesting comments. The New Jersey site notes that this is a project of both state chapters of the Sierra Club.

The DWGNRA is a unit of the National Park Service (NPS). The 70,000-acre corridor along the river was established in 1965 as part of the original plan to create a vast lake by putting a dam at Tock's Island. The proposed dam project was eventually abandoned but the DWGNRA area remained along a 40 mile stretch of the Middle Delaware National Scenic River in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

It has become among the top 10 most visited units of the national park system with an average of approximately five million visitors annually.

Sussex County and Warren County in New Jersey have each passed resolutions opposing the re-designation. Townships with lands within the DWGNRA have either passed resolutions opposing the plan to create a national park and preserve, or are still planning to vote on a resolution.

**No National Park web editor's note: The 4.5 million - 5 million visitor figure (making it one of the top 10 most visited units of the NPS) breaks down to over 12K visitors PER DAY to the Recreation Area, and that is divided evenly over 365 days of the year. It seems obvious that daily commuters are being counted as park "visitors" because they view the park through their windshields as they drive through the park on their way to work (or to the dr's office, or to the grocery store, etc). There is a traffic study by Mr. Robert Flatt posted on our Articles and Information section. Another analysis is forthcoming, including daily numbers of vehicles crossing the Dingmans and Milford Bridges, which happen to add up to the bulk of this 4.5 - 5 million figure.

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