Crumbling state parks




Date: 040210

By Thomas Barlas, Staff Writer, (609) 272-7201
Press of Atlantic City, February 8, 2004

Lake Nummy is topped with a shimmering coat of ice, and its banks and
the trails of surrounding Belleplain State Forest are buried under

It is a perfect winter landscape - and one that belies the fact that
Belleplain and the rest of New Jersey's cash-strapped state park
system is falling apart.

A special task force report says it will take at least $220 million -
money that is unlikely to be found any time soon with the state's
present budget situation - and a lot of innovation to repair long-
neglected buildings, build more campsites, upgrade overall quality at
the parks and rebuild employee morale.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, thinks the
work can be done, although it will, for now, rely more heavily on
innovation than cash.

DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell is reorganizing the state
Division of Parks and Forestry, which runs New Jersey's 39 state parks
and forests.

He has issued a broad directive requiring the DEP to investigate
possible new, stable funding sources for the park system, with those
funding sources ranging from increased fees to corporate sponsorships.

Campbell further wants to find ways to increase safety, better market
the park system, handle increasing numbers of park visitors and give
staff more opportunity for advancement.

Campbell's directive was in response to "Parks in the 21st Century,"
a study of the state park system that he commissioned in September.

DEP officials were not available to comment on the report.

However, Campbell, in his directive, said the report definitively
outlines "areas where I believe that we can strengthen and improve the
management of the state's system of parks and forestry."

Some groups are skeptical.

"Unless we get to the point where there's funding, this is just going
to be another nice report," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New
Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. "We need the funding."

The report's recommendation of new, stable funding sources for the
parks is nothing new, Tittel said, adding that environmental groups
have unsuccessfully pushed for that throughout the past several years.
Those groups sought permanent funding from sources such as billboard
and realty transfer taxes, he said.

The state could be reaching the point where the condition of its
parks reaches such a low point as to be nearly impossible to fix,
Tittel said.

"If they don't do it soon, yes," it will be too late, he said.

There is a lot of work to be done.

Critics say the state has for years ignored needed repairs caused by
time and the sheer numbers of state park visitors, which increased
from 10 million in 1992 to about 15 million a decade later. Those
visitors find aging bathrooms that need upgrades, leaking roofs,
crumbling historic buildings and a shortage of camping facilities.

In southern New Jersey, Belleplain and Corson's Inlet State Park in
Cape May County need about $3.3 million in work. That would pay for
much-needed new roofs on bathing and restroom facilities, an expanded
nature center and more campsites.

Parvin State Park in Salem County needs $2 million in improvements.
Wharton State Forest, which spreads across parts of Atlantic,
Burlington and Camden counties, needs another $4.5 million in

When Campbell commissioned the report by the "Parks for the 21st
Century Task Force," it was to provide a comprehensive study of the
state Division of Parks and Forestry and proposals regarding the
division's future needs.

The task force wound up looking at capitol projects and maintenance
backlog, park fees, the creation of new state parks, law-enforcement
issues, staff training, management and ways to improve a visitor's
experience in the park system.

The report was presented to Campbell last month, and it formally
outlines what New Jersey officials have known for some time:

- There is a lack of funding for full-time and seasonal employees,
overtime costs and training.

- Equipment and buildings are deteriorating because of bare-bones
operating budgets.

- Parks cannot meet the needs of the growing number of visitors.

- Employee morale is down.

The entire fiscal situation stymies the park system's ability to
deliver "both physically and emotionally, qualitative, safe and
enjoyable experiences at the park, as well as excellent customer
service," the report finds.

The report stresses that park employees are doing yeoman duties,
given the resources they have.

Campbell also acknowledges that in his directive, saying that
"despite severe budget constraints and with limited means, the
dedication and creativity of the division's staff has allowed us
achieve great success."

The task force also makes a series of recommendations on how to
improve the park system, including:

- Better marketing of the parks by using new advertising materials
and working with the state Office of Tourism and Travel.

- Improving safety by providing 24-hour staff coverage in parks with

- Better dealing with seasonal overcrowding.

"At certain points during the summer, and especially on summer
holidays, families often drive long distances only to be turned away
or wait in line for admission. There is often insufficient staff to
communicate either alternatives or anticipated waiting lines with
angry visitors waiting in lines."

- Making a list of potential sites for new state parks.

- Establishing minimum staffing levels for parks.

- Training employees in things such as natural resource protection
and customer service.

- Give the division "proactive and consistent leadership" to help
lift morale.

The parks might also consider developing a line of merchandise
relating to the state's parks, forests, historic sites and recreation

* * *

To email Michael Miller at The Press:


New Member
Sep 1, 2003
So, if we are penny-pinching, why take on the costs associated with re-naming a State Forest? Lebanon....


Site Administrator
Sep 17, 2002
Sschliv said:
So, if we are penny-pinching, why take on the costs associated with re-naming a State Forest? Lebanon....
That is a very good question! I wonder how much it costs to purchase the signs along the roads and have a state employee replace the old ones. Then change all references to Lebanon on their websites, replace or update the stationary, change all references to it at their offices, transport the Governor and others to the ceremony they had, etc, etc.