By Michele S. Byers
What do Wharton State Forest in the Pine Barrens, Jesse Allen Park in Newark, Camden Waterfront Park, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Island Beach State Park and Paterson’s Great Falls National Historic Park have in common?
These parks and natural areas, and many more throughout this state we’re in, have all benefited from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a 52-year-old federal program to create and improve public parks, recreation areas, beaches, monuments and historic sites.
New Jersey has received more than $346 million through this popular, bipartisan program, but the Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire on Sept. 30 and quick action by Congress is needed.
Established in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is a fantastic deal because it provides outdoor recreation for millions of people at no cost to taxpayers. It’s funded entirely through royalties from offshore oil and gas projects.
Over the past 50 years, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has helped preserve iconic landscapes in every state, including Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington, the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania and George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
In New Jersey, this fund has helped establish, expand and improve public parks in all 21 counties, from small community parks and ballfields to national recreation areas and wildlife refuges like the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
Outdoor recreation is a powerful economic engine in New Jersey, generating nearly $19 billion in consumer spending every year and supporting 143,000 jobs, $5.9 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.
This economic engine will sputter if the funds run out. As our state’s population grows, it’s important that we continue to add public open spaces so that everyone can experience the great outdoors.
Not convinced? Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund, these projects won’t happen:
• Continued revitalization of the North Camden Waterfront Park, extending it by a half-mile with additional trails, picnic areas and spots for sightseeing along the Delaware River back channel.
• Continued revitalization of Jesse Allen Park in Newark as a vibrant space for community gatherings, recreation and athletics. When completed, it will be Newark’s second-largest city-owned park, benefiting nearly 13,700 residents within a 10-minute walk, as well as residents in surrounding communities.
• An addition to the Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area in Morris County, connecting to 3,000 acres of preserved lands. This unique property flows into the Musconetcong River and Rockaway River watersheds and protects water quality in both Lake Shawnee and Lake Hopatcong.
• Others include Liberty State Park, Spruce Run Recreation Area and the Pequest Fish Hatchery. The city of Paterson has a grant to build a trail along the Passaic River. The New Jersey Highlands region has benefited from this fund, protecting the drinking water for more than six million people, or nearly two-thirds of New Jersey’s population.
New Jersey’s bipartisan Congressional delegation continues to be longstanding supporters of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but the September deadline looms.
Contact your Congressional representative today and urge him or her to support America’s most important conservation program and ensure that the Land and Water Conservation Fund is permanently reauthorized and fully funded. To contact your congressional representative, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills. She may be reached at email@example.com