Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Open Letter to the General Assembly

This view of the Outlook Lodge at Lusscroft speaks to the urgency of our cause.

On Monday, January 4, 2010, the Assembly Appropriations Committee released a bill Assembly Environment chairman John F. McKeon, Mayor of West Orange and Democratic Assemblyman representing the 27th district, is sponsoring to dedicate $150,000 of the revenue collected from Island Beach State Park to fund that park's programs. The "Island Beach Interpretative Program Fund" created by the measure (A-4337) would support educational programs to help visitors learn about the wildlife and natural resources of the park. I oppose this bill.

I have said this before and I will say it as often as necessary: We need to deal with the deteriorating state of our State Historic Sites, State Forests and State Parks as a whole and quickly. Why are legislators---no doubt acting on behalf of the entrenched bureaucracy--- carving out revenues from a popular state-owned and operated ocean beach from the rest of a poorly run public system of historic and natural resources, which is frankly 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 sadly neglected Historic Sites that belong to the people of New Jersey. I would suggest that most people do not go to Island Beach for their interpretive programs, but for enjoying the ocean in summer. What is the winter attendance at such programs? But visitors do go year round to Monmouth Battlefield, Historic New Bridge Landing, Princeton Battlefield, the Wallace House, Twin Lights and other State Historic Sites precisely for their programmatic offerings (if and when they are available). Sadly, most of these state owned and operated historic resources are either closed or severely understaffed, even after a century of state ownership. Attendance at these sites is limited by the lack of public amenities, such as parking and even restrooms, and quality programming is rare and dwindling due to chronic under-staffing and the absence of qualified management in the DEP.

Consider what knowledgeable professionals have to say. 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 indifference and neglect, lost in an environmental regulatory agency that does not comprehend their needs or purpose. If you do not believe me, please visit such places as Waterloo, where the historic fabric of the village and millions of dollars in publicly funded tourist infrastructure are decaying into ruin. Look below in this blog to find a disturbing lack of care and concern for a State owned Historic Site near you!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.