What’s in the name? Shakespeare wrote: “A rose, any other name will smell as sweet.”
Would Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area still smell sweet if it were renamed Delaware Water Gap National Park and Lenape Conservation Area?
Proponents of the renaming of the 70,000-acre recreation area say it will bring more prestige and visitors, and pay tribute to the Lenape people who were the land’s original inhabitants. Its critics say the name change will end hunting and fishing on land and bring in so many tourists that it is overcrowded.
The recreation area consistently ranks in the top 20 of the National Park Service’s more than 420 units. It straddles the Delaware River on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It features mountains, beaches, and the Delaware Water Gap, and it cuts right through the Kitatinny Ridge.
Sierra Club chapters in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are working with former recreation area supervisor John Donahue to redefine recreation areas.
If the changes are made, the Delaware Water Gap region will join 63 other national parks within the National Park Service.
The process of designating the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area as a park makes it clear that there are still many unanswered questions and concerns for local residents, officials and those who want to use it for hunting and fishing.
Proponents say there is no hunting or fishing issue, as parts of the area, which will be designated as “protected areas”, will still be allowed.
The New Jersey Outdoor Coalition refused to support the change until its members saw a plan and map outlining the boundaries of the “sanctuary” area and details on hunting and fishing.
Earlier this year, the Warren County County Commission passed a resolution in favor of the name change. However, at last week’s meeting, Commissioner James Kern said the board had listened to hunting groups and wanted to say publicly that it “does not support Delaware Water Gap (designated) without hunting.”
Commissioners said they were considering an alternative resolution to make that position clear.
Sussex County commissioners agreed with their Warren counterparts.
“We generally support Warren County 100 percent,” Commissioner Dawn Fantasia said, “but I don’t think we would agree with the no-hunting issue.”
History of the recreation area
In 2021, the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area (also known by its National Park Service code DEWA) will record 4.34 million visitors. Ten years ago, in 2010 it recorded 5.29 million tourists. In 2018, it had 3.26 million visitors, the lowest number ever.
Named a recreation area by Congress more than 50 years ago, it will be spread along the banks of a reservoir that will be built by a proposed dam on the Delaware River near Tox Island. Families in the Delaware Valley were forced from their homes, many of which (some dating back to the 1600s) were torn down by bulldozers. The dam, which was planned to prevent future flooding, was eventually abandoned.
The only physical remnant of the dam is a red line drawn on a stone along the old mine road opposite the head of Tox Island. The original boundaries of the recreation area have also been preserved, although not all land within these lines is owned or controlled by the National Park Service.
Efforts to buy all the land stopped when the dam proposal was abandoned. Some businesses, like the Walpack Inn, are still within the confines of the recreation area, as are many private residences.
fans of national park names
When John Donahue was overseeing the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area, he privately supported the idea of renaming it as a park. When he retired at the end of 2017, he was outspoken about the change.
He knew the name “National Park” would mean no hunting and fishing. But the name change will mean more “prestige” and more money, and the addition of the Lenape Preserve will draw attention to the history of the Lenape Nation, who occupied the area for 10,000 years before the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s .
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As such, he said compromises were needed to preserve the designated hunting and fishing “protected areas”.
The Sierra Clubs of New Jersey and Pennsylvania support Donahue’s idea, stating on their website: “This spectacular natural and cultural resource does not have the protection and recognition afforded by national park status.” The Sierra Club says the park The name makes it easier to get more funding for “enhancing infrastructure to better accommodate current and future visitors”.
However, neither the Sierra Club nor Donahue has said which parts of the 70,000 acres will be designated as “national parks” and which parts will be designated as “preserves” where fishing and hunting will be allowed.
“A large percentage of people still hunt recreationally,” Donahue said.
What about hunting and fishing?
Larry Herrighty, secretary of the Outdoor League of New Jersey, said the group could not be sure which section would be designated for hunting.
If the hunt is canceled, “forest health will be an issue,” Heletti said. Excessive numbers of white-tailed deer have been shown to adversely affect forests, the health of plants, and the population of small animals and birds that depend on forest shrubs for habitat.
Herrighty, the retired director of the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife, said “without the specifics of the program, we simply can’t consider supporting it.”
On the New Jersey side of the river, a hunting ban means major controls on the black bear population will be lifted. Currently, New Jersey does not have a bear management program, which excludes bear hunting season, but during the decade when hunting was allowed in northwest New Jersey, recreational areas were considered prime hunting grounds.
Pennsylvania does have bear hunting season, but because of the national park designation, hunting is also not allowed on that side of the river.
Also, both states have active bird stocking programs, with hunting groups such as the National Grouse Society and the National Quail Federation working with state game departments and NPS to increase habitat for these species.
The Pennsylvania Federation of Athletes and Environmentalists also opposes any changes that result in “a net loss of huntable acreage or fishing access in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area,” the group said in a release.
Agricultural and Historical Issues
The lower valley lands on both sides are leased by the National Park Service to farmers who grow crops, mostly soybeans and corn. It was unclear this week whether the deal could go ahead with the national park designation.
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Sandyston resident Sandy Hull, whose family was forced out after the dam project failed, said the plan also did not talk about preserving the historic structures that exist in the valley, some of which date back to colonial times.
Many homes were razed after many families were forced to leave, but other buildings remained, she said.
At one point, park employees and some private individuals were allowed to live in some of these properties, such as the Walpark Center and Peters Valley, and paid rent to the National Park Service. However, for tax reasons, these rents have ended and the building is vacant.
Peters Valley School of Craft does use several buildings as part of the agreement with DEWA, but these are used for offices, studios and temporary housing for teachers and students.
Hull has established a website and Facebook page. She said her team’s main goal was full disclosure and planning for what would happen if the redesignation occurred. She said her group had grown to 785 members in a month’s time.
“I want people to look at their back doors; pay attention to what’s going on in our community.”