TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Ellen Karcher which would appropriate $75 million to fund park development and open space acquisition, including $20.5 million for projects that include municipalities within her 12th Legislative District, was approved by the Senate Environment Committee yesterday.
“Going into the Memorial Day weekend, we recognize just how important a healthy State parks and open space system is to our economy,” said Senator Karcher, D-Monmouth and Mercer. “Well-maintained parks and historic sites, and pristine tracts of open space, are the crown jewel of New Jersey, giving us an inseverable link to our past or a direct connection to nature, and fueling the tourism engine that drives New Jersey’s economy. A greater investment in the State’s park system and open space will improve the quality of life for New Jerseyans living within our communities, and will create an even greater draw for tourists to appreciate the historic relevance and natural beauty of the Garden State.”
The bill, S-2577, would appropriate $75 million from the Garden State Green Acres Preservation Trust Fund to provide funding for the acquisition or development by the State of open space for recreation and conservation purposes. Additionally, the bill would allow the state Department of Environmental Protection to redistribute other funds from project cancellations or cost savings to provide additional funding to previously approved and funded State projects, subject to the approval of the Joint Budget and Oversight Committee.
This bill also represents a culture shift, because, for the first time in the history of the Green Acres fund, a portion of the allocation, $10 million of the $75 million total, would be spent on capital improvements in New Jersey’s parks and State forests. Traditionally, Green Acres funds were spent on land acquisition alone, but Senator Karcher argued that making funds available for capital improvements was necessary to ensure the vitality of the parks and recreation system in New Jersey.
“While it’s important for the State to secure as much open space as possible, we must also take care of the land already in our possession,” said Senator Karcher. “By funding capital improvements in some of our State’s parks and forests, we can make them an even more attractive tourism option for the thousands of visitors to the Garden State each year. Focusing our attention on both land preservation and park development will better New Jersey’s open space program, and will allow the State to both acquire, and improve, undeveloped land.”
The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for approval before going to the full Senate for consideration.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW A TABLE OF PROJECTS FUNDED BY SENATOR KARCHER’S BILL, S-2577 (requires Adobe Acrobat reader)