Delaware Water Gap—A new report released today by PennEnvironment, The Best of America Under Threat from Underfunding, showed that visitorship to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is on the rise. But even as the Water Gap draws more and more visitors, it faces budget cuts in the coming year—leaving it with fewer resources for maintenance, upkeep and stewardship.
PennEnvironment was joined by State Representative John Siptroth, Mark Zakutansky, PA Highlands Coordinator of the Appalachian Mountain Club and Herb Myerson, President of Friends of Delaware Water Gap in releasing the report.
“Last year, visitors poured into the Delaware Water Gap to explore the park and go kayaking and rafting,” said Hamna Mela, Federal Field Associate with PennEnvironment. “Yet just as its popularity grows, the Water Gap is under threat from underfunding.”
The Delaware Water Gap relies on its operating budget to hire park rangers, for programs like camping and to maintain general facilities and trails. The proposed National Park Service budget for the coming fiscal year calls for cutting the Water Gap’s operating budget by $85,000. With nearly 86,000 more people going to the park in 2009, budget cuts will make it harder for park stewards to keep up with increased usage.
“Now is the time the Delaware Water Gap should be best protected,” said Mela. “Instead, the Water Gap is facing painful cuts, which could force parks keepers to delay maintenance, hire fewer rangers or cut back on programs.”
“Monroe and Pike Counties have seen rapid population growth over the past decade. The Delaware Water Gap acts as an important environmental buffer to the extensive residential and commercial development that has occurred immediately outside the park,” said State Representative John Siptroth. “Without the protection that the National Park offers, the quality of life for residents, visitors and local wildlife would be greatly diminished.”
“Introducing Americans to the outdoors and providing high quality places to recreate is a fundamental need for our society, especially in these economically tough times,” added Mark Zakutansky, Highlands Coordinator at the Appalachian Mountain Club. “The Appalachian Mountain Club continues to work to keep parks open and accessible to all and to ensure that programs and facilities are available and adequate, but more work needs to be done.”
The threats facing the Delaware Water Gap are also being seen around the country. PennEnvironment’s report reveals that nationwide, two-thirds of national parks, including parks in nearly every state, saw visitorship climb. However, almost three-quarters of parks that saw this increase in visitors last year face a budget cut in the coming year.
In addition to operations and maintenance funding, national parks are threatened by overdevelopment and pollution on lands adjacent to or within its boundaries. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established to give parks grants for land acquisition as privately-held parcels of land near the park come up for sale. Unfortunately, many parks never receive these funds.
“Just like the Delaware Water Gap, parks throughout America are becoming more popular destinations. Parks still offer affordable family vacations and are ideal places for people of all ages to explore the great outdoors,” said Mela. “We need to give our parks the resources to ensure that they are just as majestic in 2999 as they were in 2009.
PennEnvironment urged the Obama administration to prioritize national park preservation in their America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. Advocates also called on Senators Casey and Specter to secure funding for the National Parks Service.
“The Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative aims to protect America’s greatest places and reconnect Americans with the outdoors. Here at the Delaware Water Gap, we see that happening everyday as more and more families come to hike, fish and kayak at the park. We thank Senators Casey and Specter for their commitment to the Delaware Water Gap, but now is the time to persuade their colleagues to fulfill the promise of America’s national parks,” said Mela. “We urge our leaders to fully fund the National Park Service and permanently and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund so we can enjoy what is truly the best of America for generations to come.”