New Model Will Keep Parks Open and Affordable and Ensure Operational Excellence
These new amenities and programs will help finance State park operations while at the same time expanding services and offerings to New Jerseyans using the state park system. While these new services will be attained with the help of like-minded nonprofit and corporate partners, the DEP will continue to own, manage and operate the parks.
“State parks, forests and historic sites are among New Jersey’s most treasured assets, providing recreational activities for families and serving a critical role in our land-preservation efforts all across the state,” said Governor Christie. “The key to keeping these entities open and viable for our residents today and for future generations is to keep them attractive as destinations and capable of generating self-sustaining revenue. Our strategy will enhance the offerings at our parks by expanding services and amenities, resulting in an improved, sustainable visitor experience.”
The Department’s strategy is designed to generate 38 percent of the park system’s operating budget by 2015. Several projects are already underway including a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Liberty State Park various concessions, leasing the state’s golf courses, and identification of pilot sites for the installation of solar arrays on impervious surfaces. As a result, park sustaining revenue will begin to be realized from these projects by as early as the end of 2012.
“The State park system is at a crossroads,” said Commissioner Martin. “Our parks and historic sites are very expensive to run. At the same time, they are enjoying great popularity and the total acreage of land the system manages continues to grow. To ensure the long-term viability of the parks, we are adopting a new approach that focuses on revenue production, operational excellence and partnering with corporations, nonprofits and foundations that will allow us to bring in new revenues, add exciting new programs and ventures, and enable the State to better focus on protection and management of our extensive natural and historic resources.”
The State park system encompasses 440,000 acres in 21 counties, including more than 500 miles of hiking and riding trails, and 10 miles of beaches. It includes 39 active recreation areas with year-round operations. In addition, more than 50 historic sites are attached to parks, including historic districts, villages and battlefields.
The cost of operating the State park system is about $39 million annually. However, the park system now generates just $8 million through fees and leases, or 21 percent of its total operational cost. Despite tough economic circumstances, Governor Christie has made the State park system a priority and has secured funding for remaining costs pertaining to state parks, historic sites and wildlife operations in consecutive state budgets.
The new park strategy creates a long-term sustainable stream of funding without having to rely on additional state taxpayer funds. The strategy has two phases focusing on short and long term revenue growth. The goal of the first phase is to increase non-tax resources to $15 million by 2015 through an initial round of partnerships with private sector and non-profit organizations and environmental foundations at some of the state’s largest parks. The longer term goal of the second phase is to raise about two-thirds of the annual operating budget for the State park system from alternative funding sources, thereby greatly reducing reliance on the state budget while increasing overall funding for our state parks.
New revenues will be generated from a combination of earnings from new and expanded services such as additional food amenities, golfing and boating opportunities, as well as use of partnerships that will bring in new expertise to produce new revenue opportunities, and use of outside professionals for specialized and non-DEP functions. While there will be no increases in park entrance fees, there will be a small increase for other park amenities, such as group camping, boat storage, and bus passes. Even so, New Jersey’s fees for these amenities will remain significantly lower than other those of other states, as well as local entities providing similar services in New Jersey.
To change the parks funding base and make it more sustainable, the DEP will take a new direction in running the park system that includes:
In particular, Liberty State Park in Hudson County, Island Beach State Park in Ocean County, and Wharton State Forest in Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties, will be prioritized as pilot projects for new, innovative parks funding and program efforts, to be announced in the future. The new plan was developed with input from State park employees and a review of partnership successes attained by other states and the National Park Service.
To read the entire Sustainable Parks Report, visit: http://www.nj.gov/dep/sustainableparks/docs/funding-strategy-es.pdf
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