Christie: Outside funding will help keep state parks open

JERSEY CITY – In Liberty State Park, Gov. Chris Christie announced a new plan to increase outside funding of the state park system by 17 percent, relieving the public tax rolls.

For a $30 million park system that sees 18 million visitors per year, the state only collects $8 million in revenue annually, according to the administration.

Christie and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin announced a plan that they said will increase revenue to 38 percent of the state’s costs, up from 21 percent currently.

The plan includes increased commercial rights granted to vendors, but does not increase entrance fees for New Jersey residents.

While other states are closing parks to conserve funds, “sustainable and secure revenues” will inject $15 million in the park system by 2015, Christie said, “without having to rely on different funds from our taxpayers directly.”

“It will also mean entrance fees will not change,” he said. “If people can’t afford to come there it doesn’t matter if you keep them open or not.”

While another environmental lobbyist was critical of ceding public rights to access certain park areas, Dave Pringle of N.J. Environmental Federation like the idea. “At first blush, it’s good,” he said. “You need to keep the parks open.”

Christie said the increased revenue from amenities and concessions will come from new rounds of bidding on vendor contracts – a process that was started in September for Liberty State Park, a 5 million-visitors-per-year destination. It also includes consolidated service contracts, like those that would cover food, boat rentals, and lifeguard responsibilities in a particular park.

The other fee increases include some out-of-state entry fee hikes and campsite and cabin rental increases.

Martin called the Jersey City park on the Hudson “one of the jewels” in New Jersey’s park system. “It’s critical to the economy of the state, it’s critical to the environment of the state to keep these parks open, keep them running.”

But Sierra Club state director Jeff Tittel called the announcement “more privatization of our public lands by both private companies and non-profit organizations.”

“The Governor is taking liberties with our state parks at the site that most represents liberty in New Jersey,” he said.

“This national symbol of freedom will have its public access restricted and other parks could be following suit under Governor Christie. Something is wrong when we take New Jersey’s state parks and privatize them. The Governor is giving away our most treasured assets.”

Christie: Outside funding will help keep state parks open