It's time to Fix Our Parks
A new report shows there is tremendous pressure on New Jersey’s State Parks, Forests and natural areas. Is the state up to the task?
By Jason HowellJune 20, 2022
For more than a half a century, New Jersey has invested billions of dollars creating a public lands system which houses tremendous beauty and biodiversity and should be the envy of every state in the union. It is critical to our society to have a well-funded and well-managed park system.
But New Jersey’s State Parks, Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, and Natural Areas have become neglected. Natural resource and law enforcement staff have been reduced due to inappropriate budget cuts, natural resource inventories and protection plans are not being implemented, and natural beauty is becoming spoiled by destructive activities that undermine ecological health, the public trust, and our previous investments.
Our members and the visiting public have made it clear that we need more accessible walking trails, more scenic viewing areas, and more biking trails in the state. We need to prevent destructive uses like illegal dumping and illegal off-road vehicles that harm the parks and the people who use them. Both New York and Pennsylvania have accomplished many of these goals and are moving progressively forward, yet New Jersey is falling behind.
Although the symptoms appeared first in the Pinelands on issues such as lack of swimming areas and trails, illegal dumping, and staffing cuts, this is now a statewide issue. We teamed up with the Highlands Coalition, the New Jersey-New York Trails Conference, and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation to launch a grassroots campaign, Fix Our Parks NJ, to restore the resources, staffing, and pride in New Jersey’s state parks, forests, and wildlife management areas.
In preparation for this campaign we hired Michael Van Clef, Ph.D., of Ecological Solutions LLC., to conduct an assessment of New Jersey’s public lands management. Dr. Van Clef earned his Ph.D. in ecology from Rutgers University and has over 25 years of experience in land stewardship, planning and research. He has consulted with over 30 organizations in New Jersey including the NJ Invasive Species Council for which he prepared the New Jersey Strategic Management Plan for Invasive Species.
The result of Dr. Van Clef’s work is the New Jersey State Lands Management Report available at www.FixOurParksNJ.org, (publicly released in June). It provides a detailed look at the state’s public lands and the resources allocated for management and protection of those lands. An excerpt from the report states:
“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.”Dr. Michael Van Clef, New Jersey State Lands Management report
New Jersey’s investment in public lands has given us 389 State Parks, Forests, Historic Sites, Natural Areas, and Wildlife Management Area covering 882,000 acres across the State, representing an incredible inventory of accessible opportunities for healthy, outdoor recreation. Clearly, we must do a better job protecting them and ensuring they are accessible and safe.
That is where you come in.
Non-profit groups can sound the alarm, but we need the political support of individuals who care about their parks and open space to bring about change. Join the campaign at www.FixOurParksNJ.org. You will be able to take part in public demonstrations, cleanup projects, tours and receive a free #FixOurParks yard sign. You will be connected with other like-minded individuals and can make a positive impact on our parks. Share your story with us. Is there a state park or forest that you love? Is there an issue impacting your experience? Reach out to Jason at 609-859-8860 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Fix Our Parks Campaign is a statewide campaign with four main objectives. First, we want to increase funding for state parks and forests operations and maintenance through both public and private funds which means a commitment by all leaders from the NJ Legislature to Governor Murphy. Second, we support more flexibility and resources for state park superintendents. Third, we advocate for greater enforcement to stop the illegal activities. And fourth, we want to partner with the state in creating a state-wide/regional Friends Organization(s) that can bring volunteers and private resources to help with maintenance and stewardship.
You can help make this vision a reality by joining the movement. Read the report and sign up at fixourparksnj.org to learn about events and how you can participate. On a first come, first serve basis, we are offering free yard signs to spread the word about the campaign.
Let’s keep putting pressure on decision makers like Governor Murphy, state legislators, and DEP Commissioner LaTourette to make the best decisions possible to protect and enhance the Parks. If we don’t build the movement strong enough, then the trend of blight and destructive uses of our open space will only continue. Fortunately, many people are hearing the call, understanding the issues, and joining the movement to #FixOurParks. With your help, we will win, and establish New Jersey’s Parks as a health and well-being resource for residents and visitors alike and generations to come.