Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Nine State Parks to Close

Last month the news broke that the state would consider ending services at some state parks in response to voters' demand for budget cuts. Yesterday that rumor took on specific form, as the state DEP announced nine parks it would close.

  1. Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest), 36,647 acres, Burlington County. Camping, group picnic area, Indian King Tavern, office, closed. Trail access limited.
  2. Monmouth Battlefield State Park, 2,928 acres, Monmouth County. Visitor center, restrooms, closed.
  3. Stephens State Park, 805 acres, Warren County. Camping area closed.
  4. High Point State Park, 15,827 acres, Sussex County. Swimming, camping, interpretive center, office, closed. Trail access limited.
  5. Round Valley Recreation Area, 3,684 acres, Hunterdon County. Swimming, camping, Wallace House, office, closed.
  6. Parvin State Park, 1,952 acres, Salem County. Swimming, camping, interpretive center, office, closed.
  7. Jenny Jump State Forest, 4,288 acres, Warren County. Camping and office, closed. Trail access limited.
  8. Worthington State Forest, 6,584 acres, Warren County. Camping and office, closed. Trail access limited.
  9. Fort Mott State Park, 104 acres, Salem County. Hancock House, historic sites, office, closed. Access to ferry service, open.
The budget plan closes all state parks (except Liberty State Park and Island Beach State Park) on Mondays and Tuesdays during winter (November through March). It also contains partial closures for the following three state parks.
  1. Ringwood State Park, 4,044 acres, Bergen and Passaic counties. Shepherd Lake swimming area closed; Ringwood Manor, reduced hours. State Botanical Gardens and Skylands Manor, open.
  2. D&R Canal State Park, 5,379 acres, central New Jersey. Bulls Island Recreation Area closed to campers. Rockingham Historic Site and towpath, open.
  3. Washington Crossing State Park, 3,126 acres, Mercer and Hunterdon counties. Significantly reduced hours at Clark House, Johnson Ferry House and the museum.
Several good birding spots are on the list, such as High Point, Worthington, and Byrne/Lebanon. I have visited eight of the twelve slated for full or partial closure. Birders who live in or visit New Jersey after July 1, 2008, will need to be aware of the closures. What the closures would mean is somewhat unclear and may vary from park to park. The linked article from the Courier-Post suggests that some access would be allowed for hiking. Another article on the closures from the Asbury Park Press states that police would ask visitors to leave.

NJ Audubon and NJ Sierra Club have announced their opposition to the plan. They argue that voters generally support open space preservation through Green Acres bonds and that public lands bring money into the state through ecotourism. These are sound reasons to support continued state funding for parks. In addition, closing some state parks will put additional pressure on other state parks as visitors seek alternate destinations for recreation.

However, the state budget has been cut so often over the past 10-15 years that it has become very difficult to cut the budget significantly without cutting into essential services. With tax, fee, and toll increases off the table, opponents to one particular set of cuts will need to justify replacing it with an equally (or more) painful set of cuts to meet state budget requirements. The current political dynamic in Trenton does not favor the goals of environmentalists since preserving open space and conserving wildlife are costly and do not return value in obvious ways. Without a major change in the state's political climate, it is hard to see how environmentalists can prevent these closures and further closures in the future.