Monday, November 30, 2009

A Proposal to Create Special Funds

Talk about Balkanization, well, check this out! The Assembly Environment & Solid Waste Committee reviewed Assembly bill 4121 today, which would dedicate up to $400,000 annually of fees collected at Island Beach and Liberty State Parks to special funds to be used to support certain park programs. In other words, it would create special funds from fees collected at Liberty State Park and Island Beach State Park to be used for staff salaries at these locations. Unbelievable! These are considered prime assignments in the park service and both sites have benefited from out-sized public funding for many years. This will protect these jobs while the remainder of the Division of Parks & Forestry, including the State Historic Sites, dwindles away. The state owned Historic Sites have long been underfunded and understaffed. Some, including the Steuben House, are closed.

It's time for change.

UPDATE! Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle informed me on December 1st that "this bill was pulled."

UPDATE! 12/06/09


Senate Bill 2977, which dedicates up to $400,000 annually of fees collected at Island Beach and Liberty State Parks to special funds to be used to support certain park programs, and makes appropriations from the funds, was advanced by the Senate Environment Committee and sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee. According to the release on this legislation, Senator Christopher J. Connors and Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf state, “We introduced this legislation after meeting with individuals comprising a coalition who, collectively, had undertaken great efforts to protect the Island Beach State Park Interpretive Program. During the meeting, these individuals discussed in depth the disparity in resources provided by the state for the interpretive program at Island Beach State Park as compared to the program at Liberty State Park. There was even deep concern the program would be terminated due to lack of funds. Since the Park does collect fees, we felt it appropriate to introduce legislation establishing a dedicated revenue stream to fund this important program which serves dual purposes as both an attraction for tourists and an educational forum for students.”

I ask, "What about interpretation and public access at all remaining state parks, forests and, most significantly, state owned and operated Historic Sites?" We are now carving out a popular public ocean beach and Liberty State Park from the rest of a poorly run public system of historic and natural resources, which is on the verge of collapse. Instead, why not find a dedicated source of income---even this source of income, if necessary---and begin to repair unmaintained and badly managed historic sites that belong to the people of New Jersey. I would suggest that people do not go to Island Beach for their interpretive programs, but they do go to Monmouth Battlefield, Historic New Bridge Landing, Princeton Battlefield, the Wallace House, Twin Lights and other State Historic Sites precisely for that reason.

Reviewing Interpretation in the National Park Service: A Historical Perspective, Barry Mackintosh writes: “Generally speaking, historical parks need interpretation more than natural and recreational parks do. Natural parks, typically encompassing spectacular or outstandingly scenic natural features, may be enjoyed aesthetically by most visitors regardless of whether they understand the geologic or biologic phenomena underlying them. Relatively few visitors to parks established primarily for active recreation are receptive to interpretive programs. But although many historical parks have aesthetic appeal and some accommodate active recreation, few can be greatly appreciated without some explanation of who lived or what occurred there. At historical parks, too, altered or missing features are often restored or reconstructed to better ‘tell the story.’ In far greater proportion than at parks established for other purposes, the [National Park] Service's task at its historical areas — indeed, the basic rationale for its involvement with such areas — is interpretation.”

Institutional compression has unfortunately made forest management and the interpretation of historic sites subsidiary to a system of recreational parks. Our state owned and operated Historic Sites have sadly languished under bureaucratic indifference and neglect, lost in an environmental regulatory agency that does not comprehend their needs or purpose.

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