Our View: Right and Wrong Ways to Fund New Jersey Parks | Latest titles

New Jersey has public parks and forests throughout the state, a fine collection assembled with decades of effort and billions of dollars spent. These recreational areas and green spaces are very popular and counterbalance the urbanization of this small, most densely populated state.

Running and protecting them also costs money, and even though the state government taxes its citizens and businesses more than other states, its officials never seem to find the money to maintain these publicly expensive facilities. .

This prompted two current efforts to increase funding for the park and find sources for it. One is a statewide environmental coalition’s Fix Our Parks campaign, along with a report on New Jersey state land management.

The other is an unstoppable effort by the legislature to pave the way for private development on part of Liberty State Park, a warning to New Jersey residents that even their state parks are under threat from irresponsible politicians and the buddy service.

The Assembly was expected to pass a bill this week to plan improvements to Liberty, the most-visited state park. On the shore near the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island National Immigration Museum, the park is a valuable open space in Jersey City.

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Local bands have long sought out recreational facilities here such as ball diamonds, basketball courts and a natural amphitheater for concerts. The bill sets up a task force to choose and place improvements in the park, but despite repeated pleas from the public and conservation groups, it does not rule out turning over part of the park to private development.

Billionaire Paul Fireman sought for years to expand his adjacent golf course onto a 22-acre beachfront section of Liberty called Caven’s Point. He funded local groups to lobby for the park bill and could control the task force.

Even recreational improvements could diminish the park if private money becomes the point of a future deal. Governor Phil Murphy appears to be on board already. “Sometimes people think he’s in tip-top shape right now, doing everything he needs to, especially for the neighbors who live next door. That’s not the case. It has to be better. and it can be better,” he said recently.

A proposal would transform Liberty with a 150,000 square foot recreation center, ice rinks, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a 5,000-seat stadium and a 7,000-seat amphitheater.

Getting the money for it and who knows what and who else might require selling Caven’s Point to the billionaire. Its half-mile beach, the longest in New York Harbor, currently hosts migrating birds, horseshoe crabs and school children on environmental education trips.

The Fix Our Parks campaign, by contrast, seeks an appropriate level of state spending and more robust private fundraising and public support that would serve the original natural purpose of parks and forests.

The campaign aims to create a statewide nonprofit, such as a Friends of New Jersey Parks group, to raise private funds and develop an advocacy and volunteer base. It will also spur the state to increase spending on personnel and contractors, and better enforce laws against the illegal use of all-terrain vehicles and illegal dumping.

According to ecologist Michael Van Clef’s report on state land management, New Jersey spends just $4 per capita annually on its public lands and $2 per capita on capital projects. for public lands. That’s a small fraction of nearby New York’s spending of $24 per capita for operations and $22 per capita for capital projects, and Pennsylvania’s $12 and $18, respectively.

Underfunding has resulted in fewer hiking trails, campsites, and state park visits per resident than Pennsylvania or New York, and far fewer campsites and visits than the national average.

Tom Gilbert, co-executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said with the state government sitting on billions in surplus funds, money is available for public lands.

“Resources devoted to the proper management of state parks and forests are just as important as acquiring additional land,” said Jaclyn Rhoads, deputy executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, another of the four coalition groups. Fix Our Parks.

These parks and forests belong to the people of New Jersey, a public resource accumulated over generations whose value will increase over time if politicians do not plunder it for the benefit of their friends and supporters. Residents would do better to rely on their state officials to ensure that future generations of this overcrowded state can enjoy this natural heritage.

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