SPARTA — The second in a series of open house meetings scheduled by the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and the National Parks Service took place Thursday night at Sussex County Technical School in Sparta, with discussion focused on increased recreational use on the New Jersey side of the river.
The purpose of the meeting was to solicit public input on the Visitor Use Management plan that is being developed by the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Residents and attendees had the opportunity to address concerns or suggest ways to improve the county’s utilization of the national park with one-on-one discussions with several representatives from the park service.
Of the many topics discussed, ways to improve access to the park from New Jersey and the impact it may have on the surrounding area was a central theme. Some expressed concern over the impact of an increase in visitors to the area.
“People want some access on the Jersey side,” said Chamber of Commerce President Tammie Horsfield. “We want to have an opportunity to reap some of the economic value, but we want to do it carefully. We want to make sure there’s maintenance and care if there was access.”
There were several small business owners in attendance and Horsfield said, that in speaking with some of them, the sentiment seemed to be ways to increase the county’s economic benefit from the park.
“Many of them were looking at the same kinds of things,” Horsfield said. “They’d like to see some opportunity here, they’d like to see some economic value. If there were more opportunity on the Jersey side, the businesses might then benefit from having (park visitors) coming into New Jersey and stop in their stores, utilize their services, purchase supplies and things that they need on the way.”
“I’ve been working very closely with the National Park Service,” she said. “But we are working through the chamber to educate our businesses as to the opportunities that could be available and encouraging them to get involved.”
Sussex County Freeholder Director Phil Crabb expressed a desire for the county to work in conjunction with the chamber of commerce and the park service to improve the dialogue between the parties and work towards solutions that would benefit the county.
“Part of the challenge that we have on the Sussex County side is everything is on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware national park,” Crabb said. “I’d like to have meetings to see how we can leverage what types of things that we can tout on the Sussex County side, not just to bring people through Sussex County, but to bring people up to Sussex County and stay for those specific reasons.”
Sussex County Freeholder George Graham echoed Crabb’s notion of more communication.
“(The Board of Freeholders) would like to see a better relationship between the National Park Service and the county, because there’s so much of that land that lies within Sussex County,” Graham said.
Finding ways to invest more resources into improving existing areas of the park in the county or creating new ones was also something Graham spoke about.
“I had already attended the first meetings in April and the big sounding over there was there’s nothing on the Jersey side,” Graham said. “There’s no real access to the river (or) access to launch a boat. That was a concern. We were looking also in that they haven’t put too much in the way of investment on our side. You go to the other side (Pennsylvania), they’ve got a lot of investment over there. I think the Jersey side needs more investment. This is a very good (way) of going (about that).”
John J. Donahue, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area superintendent, said the plan was a process and would take time to both finalize and then implement.
“This is everybody’s park,” Donahue said. “We’re trying to prevent visitor conflicts. We have hundreds of different kinds of uses and they potentially can all be compatible.”