In New Jersey’s state parks, the “worst damage” from fallen trees occurred across the central and northern parts of the state, said Bob Considine, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the parks.
In the central part of the state, “wind got closer to the ground as it sped across the relatively open fields” and trees on the edges of these openings were “the most vulnerable,” Considine told NJ.com.
In northern Jersey, “the hills caught the wind and funneled it between them,” Considine said.
Although the tree task remains “vast,” Considine said, the parks and forestry division has “worked tirelessly” to open or partially open 43 state parks and forests.
Due to “safety concerns,” Considine said, seven locations remain closed — Allamuchy Mountain, Double Trouble, Hacklebarney, Island Beach State Park, Leonardo State Marina, Six-Mile Run Reservoir and Voorhees State Park.
Liberty State Park, partially reopened, “still has a lot of damage,” Considine said, adding that the restoration of Liberty and Island Beach state parks are “current priorities.”
The Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corp., which owns five reservoirs in a 35,000-acre area straddling Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties, has “cleaned most trees that were blocking access roads” and is now “working diligently” on a “massive cleanup,” said executive director Linda Watkins-Brashear.
“The cleanup process will be lengthy and costly,” Watkins-Brashear said, noting the group is investigating outside funding sources with the watershed’s estimated costs already reaching $250,000 for the cleanup.
A chain restaurant in Wharton State Forest. A Ferris wheel at Liberty State Park. Weddings, flea markets, and corporate events taking over New Jersey’s historic sites and scenic lands.
According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that could be the future if the state goes forward with plans to privatize parts of its park system, some warn.
“Next thing you know, you have to pay more for everything and the public’s access is limited,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey. “You’ll be getting fee’d to death.”
The state has a different vision. Lou Valente, chief project adviser for the state Department of Environmental Protection, foresees parks that retain their character while better serving the public, cost less to operate, and generate more revenue.
Private entities would provide lifeguards, event-planning, boat rentals, enlarged food service, even small stores with camping supplies. Nonprofits would take more responsibility for interpretive programs, freeing up DEP employees for other duties.
The changes, made public in October, will be implemented gradually, officials said, as part of a long-term strategy to keep the parks open by making them more self-sustaining.
The criticisms “have no connection to what we’re doing,” Valente said.
“We’re planning substantial change by 2015,” he said. By then, 38% of the system’s budget would come from deals with private and nonprofit entities for things such as the concessions at Liberty State Park, installing solar arrays on parkland and continued leasing of four state-owned golf courses.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that eventually, the state would like two-thirds of the system’s annual operation budget to come from outside sources.
“Some people may want McDonald’s,” Valente said. “We don’t. But giving people something to eat? That’s fair.”
Food service is already at most parks, he said. “There are hot dogs and hamburgers. We’d like to go more broadly than that.”
The state doesn’t want to compromise the system’s integrity, said DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese. “There’s no talk of Applebee’s at every park. There won’t be neon signs along the trails.
“We want to bring the parks into the 21st century,” he said. “People come to the parks for nature and history, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer them something to go with it.”
A record 19 million visitors were drawn to 440 acres of state parks in 21 counties last year. The system takes in 500 miles of hiking and riding trails, 10 miles of beaches, and 39 recreation areas, along with 50 historic sites.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants contractors to take over concessions and event services at state parks, saying the cash generated by the move can help keep the 50-plus state parks, forests and recreation areas open.
The Daily Journal, Vinland, reported that an environmental group immediately expressed fears the plan could lead to higher fees and restrict public access.
Christie ruled out hikes in admission or entry fees for state residents, though he said new rates for items such as group camping, boat storage and bus passes are likely.
“At a time when most other states are closing down state parks to save money or significantly increase entry fees, our administration is committed to keep all the state parks accessible for everyone to enjoy them,” he said Wednesday (Nov. 2) during a news conference here at Liberty State Park. “Entrance fees will not change. If people can’t afford to come there, it doesn’t matter whether you keep the parks open or not.”
Island Beach State Park in Ocean County and Wharton State Forest in Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties also are in line to have snack stands and other services go under private control shortly, with other sites being added in the future, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said.
No contracts have been awarded.
The cost of operating the parks is about $39 million annually but the system generates $8 million through fees and leases, or 21 percent of the total operating cost, Martin said.
“It’s been a struggle to maintain these parks, keep them open and keep them running,” Martin said.