The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) and three other groups have partnered for the launch of the Fix Our Parks campaign.
The campaign was formed by the PPA, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and the New Jersey Highlands Coalition to ensure that state parks, forests and wildlife management areas are protected and enhanced for future generations.
The alliance mission is to preserve the Pine Barrens ecosystem, promote public engagement in preservation and advance acquisition of land and development rights by private and public conservation agencies. The conservation foundation’s goal is to preserve New Jersey land and natural resources. And the trail conference is a volunteer powered group that builds, maintains and protects public trails throughout the Pinelands.
The Highlands Coalition represents a diverse network of organizations that are individual, small and large, local, regional, statewide and national. Its mission is to protect, enhance and restore the state’s highlands and preserve the quality and quantity of drinking water, both for the 850,000 people in the highlands and the more than five million people in surrounding areas who depend on it.
The Fix Our Parks campaign strives to increase funding for protection and restoration of natural resources in the parks and natural areas and enhance trail and wildlife viewing amenities. Last year, the PPA contracted with Dr. Michael Van Clef of Ecological Solutions LLC to conduct an assessment of New Jersey’s public lands management. His work was published in April and cites the inattention, among other factors, that have contributed to the decline of state parks.
A FY2018 annual report notes that state parks’ staff has been reduced by 28 percent from 2006, while there was a simultaneous increase in park acreage of 13 percent. The state park service staff to visitor ratio is one to every 35,947 acres, while the state forest service ratio is one in 5,457, according to the parks campaign and the report.
According to the PPA’s Public Lands Advocate Jason Howell, reasons for the parks’ decline include a reduced public benefit because of nature center seasonal staffing and closures. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced in May the closures of six small areas within five wildlife- management zones, with staffing issues a contributing factor.
“We need more conservation officers, we need more maintenance staff and we need more amenities,” Howell noted. “Things that people can go and do, like viewing areas, like walking, biking, hiking, trails, swimming.”
Howell cited the mission of the parks’ campaign and how the partnering organizations will bring concerns to light.
“The first thing we are going to do is invite as many people as we can – and there’s a whole lot of people who use the parks in New Jersey – to join our movement, to push their representatives to support the parks systems,” he said.
For more information, visit https://www.fixourparksnj.org/