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Privatization of New Jersey’s Park System Ignite Questions

New Jersey’s Park System

The historic sites and scenic lands of New Jersey are gradually been taken over by corporate events, chain restaurants, flea markets, and private companies. The Philadelphia Inquirer published a report stating that some have warned this privatization of the scenic lands and historic sites of the state could be the future, if New Jersey continues with the plan to privatize its park system. Jeff Tittel, the Sierra Club of New Jersey’s director said, “Next thing you know, you have to pay more for everything and the public’s access is limited. You’ll be getting fee’d to death.”

However, the government of New Jersey seems to have a different vision. According to this, this privatization would help the parks to retain their character while providing better services to the public. This will also reduce the operational costs and thus, generate more revenue.  These private companies will provide a host of facilities for the public such as enlarged food service, event-planning, lifeguards, boat rentals, and small stores with camping supplies. Even the non-profit organizations would be taking more responsibility for their interpretive programs. This, in turn, would make the DEP employees free to do other duties.

This change was made public in October; however, the officials reported that this change would be implemented gradually since it’s a part of a long-term strategy that would make the parks more self-sustaining. According to the state officials the criticism has nothing do with what they are currently doing. Lou Valente, the chief project adviser for the state Department of Environmental Protection said, “We’re planning substantial change by 2015. By then, 38% of the system’s budget would come from deals with private and nonprofit entities for things such as the concessions at Liberty State Park, installing solar arrays on parkland and continued leasing of four state-owned golf courses.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that the state is eventually planning to have two-thirds of the annual operation budget of the park system to come from outside sources. Valente further said “Some people may want McDonald’s. We don’t. But giving people something to eat? That’s fair. There are hot dogs and hamburgers. We’d like to go more broadly than that.”

Larry Ragonese, the spokesperson of DEP said, “There’s no talk of Applebee’s at every park. There won’t be neon signs along the trails”, implementing that state will not compromise the integrity of the park system. He said, “We want to bring the parks into the 21st century. People come to the parks for nature and history, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer them something to go with it.”

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