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New Jersey State Parks Funding
See our article "Our Parks on Life Support," in the March/April 2011 issue of Trail Walker.
The Trail Conference is pleased that the budget proposal for 2012 announced on Feb. 15 by Gov. Chris Christie does not include new cuts to parks operating budgets. We remain concerned, however, that staffing levels are 35% below what has been determined to be necessary for good stewardship, including monitoring pipeline projects being constructed through parks and the immediate need to repair and replace critical equipment after a 3-year moratorium.
The budget proposal put forward by Gov. Chris Christie on February 15, provides a modest increase in funds for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), calls for an increase in parks and forestry appropriations and continues funding for several programs charged with protecting the state’s natural resources.
In addition, $6.2 million in funding for the operations of the State’s parks and forests is being restored from the state’s general fund, assuring that all state parks will remain open. Many of the 54 state parks have been operating with critically low staff levels, which the Governor has proposed increasing to better serve the more than 17 million visitors who make use of these sites annually. Capital development projects required to improve facilities at state parks would be allocated $2.6 million in Gov. Christie’s budget, helping to assure that visitors can use them safely and enjoyably.
The budget process now enters the public negotiating phase, and those who love parks and open space need to stay vigilant and involved. Let your state representatives know your views.
If you are interested in leading the Trail Conference efforts to support the state’s parks system, contact Chris Ingui, Trail Conference program coordinator for New Jersey, at [email protected]
Issue Updates :
February 24, 2011:
Parks Would Remain Open, Dept. of Environmental Protection Staffing Levels Stable in Gov. Christie's Budget Proposal. For more details, please click and read the press Release from the Keep It Green Coalition.
Over the years, park attendance has steadily increased, from 10.5 million visitors in 1990 to 15.7 million in 2000 to 18.8 million in 2010. The gates may be open, but behind them is a skeleton park staff that has been struggling for years to keep facilities running on a seriously downsized budget. Park personnel overseeing administration, maintenance, and operations at parks is 35% below levels targeted for good stewardship, down to an average of just one superintendent (or less), one customer service assistant, and two to three maintenance workers per park. Some of these parks are over 50,000 acres with swimming areas that fill to capacity in the early morning hours. This ongoing lack of funding from the state has also led to the accumulative degradation of the maintenance equipment used to keep parks open. For example, since 2006 no new maintenance vehicles or equipment purchases have been made in the New Jersey parks system, forcing maintenance staff to push older vehicles and tools well beyond their safe operating life. This has led to a host of horror stories that involve PVC piping being used to replace broken shifters, old road signs being repurposed to patch rusted holes in the floors of trucks, and staff being forced to go to junk yards to buy replacement parts that have been out of production for years. Just how long these parks can operate at this level before reduced access becomes imminent is uncertain. During the January 2011 blizzard for example, some parks were forced to shut down for several days because all their plows were broken. Parks are some of the best examples of well-managed, cost efficient, public-private partnerships. Nonprofit groups, including the Trail Conference, already subsidize operating and capital costs, saving the taxpayers millions. But volunteers can’t do it alone. We need the gates open and support from staff to help keep parks accessible to the public.