A 28% decrease in staffing since 2006, coupled with a 13% increase in acquired acreage since 2008, is severely stressing New Jersey's state park system, according to a report released Monday.

The New Jersey State Lands Management Report is the result of a collaboration between the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and Michael Van Clef of Ecological Solutions LLC.

Van Clef said the Garden State's stable of parks should be the envy of all of the United States, but funding in New Jersey pales in comparison to its neighbors.

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"The operating budget, for example, in New Jersey parks is one-third of Pennsylvania, one-sixth of New York, and about two-thirds of the national average of all the states in the country," he said. "We have a great portfolio of parks. If you just said here, here's all the parks in New Jersey and what do they have, it's really impressive. It's absolutely impressive, on all the fronts — natural, cultural, and historic."

In an attempt to protect the state's wealth of natural resources at these places, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and other groups are launching the #FixOurParks campaign, calling for more funding to provide adequate staffing and site maintenance, but also a change to the management structure of the park system itself.

D & R Canal State Park, 6 Mile Run trail in Franklin Township (Google Maps)
D & R Canal State Park, 6 Mile Run trail in Franklin Township (Google Maps)
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The report said the ratio of staff to visitors at New Jersey parks is currently 1 to 36,000, and 1 for every 5,500 acres of land.

"Instead of having 50 park superintendents for 50 parks, we have 15 park superintendents for 50 parks, instead of each one having a full complement of operations and maintenance staff," Van Clef said.

Cheesequake State Park in Matawan (Photo Credit: Cheesequake State Park website)
Cheesequake State Park in Matawan (Photo Credit: Cheesequake State Park website)
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Pinelands Preservation Alliance assistant executive director Jaclyn Rhoads said in a press release that the public relies upon park areas for "emotional and physical well-being."

But the report suggests that a "collapse" of parkland in New Jersey may be inevitable if, as Van Clef said, systemwide neglect continues to push visitors away.

"The residents of New Jersey are not utilizing their parks, and you could imagine there being a little bit of a circular argument here — if there's not as many amenities, you might not get as many visitors," he said.

Island Beach State Park
Island Beach State Park (DEP)
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To read the full report and learn more about the #FixOurParks campaign, visit FixOurParksNJ.org.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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