The following opinion piece was submitted by Jeff Tittel, director of the NJ Sierra Club ...
Sandy Hook is our National Park, our Yellowstone or Yosemite.
It is New Jersey’s treasure, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, whose purpose is to further enhance the historic and environmental experience for the people of New Jersey and the region.
The park gets over two million visitors, almost as many visitors as Yellowstone. It is the park that is closest to all of us to use and is in one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas.
Sandy Hook has been neglected for far too long. The 12-year battle to privatize part of the park was not only a mistake, but set the park back because we lost all those years where improvements could have been done. It was a bad plan that would have blocked public access and the delay meant a real management was not put in place.
We are glad that the National Park Service is proposing General Management Plans for Gateway National Recreational Area. However, colorful maps and fancy brochures do not make a real management plan.
There is not enough detail or substance to fully understand the impacts to the park from this proposal. Sandy Hook is one of the most unique parks anywhere in the country because it is an oasis in a densely populated urban area.
It is a place of scenic beauty natural resources, history and recreation. This national park belongs to all of us. Because of competing interests, we need to make sure the park keeps its character and all the benefits it provides to the public.
We have to move Sandy Hook into the 21st century and adapt to a changing world while protecting it’s core mission and historic nature of the site. People can still swim, fish, boat, bicycle, while enjoying nature. What makes Sandy Hook more valuable to us that you do not have to travel west.
The proposed management plan consists of four different alternatives for the park. The different alternatives have positives, but need improvements. Overall it is important to come up with a plan that uses all the great things the Gateway Park has to offer, while also protecting the environment.
Part of the concern is we can love the park to death with too many visitors and uses at the same time, which can cause more harm than good.
If there is going to be any leased out space for private purposes it has to conform to the mission of the park and overall park plan. We need to make sure that the areas that are leased out are open to the public and affordable for the average person who visits the park.
The concession needs to enhance the visit for the people coming to the park not to become a private country club. We need to stay true to the architecture and history of the buildings. We agree there should be an expansion of ferry and shuttle services connecting to other sites and parks. We need to do more to limit parking and restore those areas.
We already have the Marine Academy of Sciences and historic buildings. There are some areas of the park where restoration needs to be done not only fixing buildings, but restoring dunes, vegetation, and wetlands. Other buildings they should let go to ruins so people can see the nature and decay at work.
The park has many recreational resources, natural resources and historic components. The plan needs to enhance all three, but done in a way that protects the environment.
The concern we have some aspects of the proposed plan is there is too much commercialization and private use. There needs to be a proper balance between historic, educational, nonprofit and environmental use. There needs to be more of a public input and oversight in leases for accountability and to ensure public safeguard in the use. There is not enough information about the leasing of parts of Sandy Hook, especially the historic buildings.
We are concerned about leasing and concessions because this park belongs to all of us. It should not allow it to become an Applebee’s by the Sea, a shopping center, or a private country club on public land. However, a certain amount of concessions can enhance the park visit with more amenities — like places to stay and eat as long as we do not restrict public access and make it too expensive.
There is not enough information on the potential impacts of the different plans to the natural resources and the ecology of Sandy Hook. There needs to be more information, environmental studies and public outreach in order have a management plan that we can all support.
Having national parks is one of the greatest ideas that government ever had; and, an urban park brings it closer to all of us. This is our hidden gem within sight of New York skyline, but we have to make sure that we don’t commercialize or destroy the natural resources at the park.
We should not be allowed to love the park to death we have to balance all of the different uses including protecting of the environment and the park itself.