Dear TAPInto Editor: New Jersey Audubon appreciates the work of Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27th Dist), the sponsor of legislation that requires state parks, forests and other natural and historic areas to remain open to the public for seven days if state government is shut down in the future.

This legislation, A5128, which received strong bi-partisan support, provides a safeguard to ensure no resident or visitor is denied access - as they were over the July 4 weekend -  to taxpayer-funded state parks and beaches.

Parks and other public spaces bring well-established health benefits to citizens of all ages by promoting physical activity and relaxation. Forests and natural areas are especially important in getting people outdoors to  enjoy nature, and along with historic areas, serve as treasured destinations for educational opportunities and youth programs.

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In a new report, the Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation in New Jersey generates $18.9 billion in consumer spending annually, 143,000 direct jobs, $5.9 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenue. Clearly, unnecessary park closures pack a disastrous economic punch.

McKeon's legislation, passed with unanimous bipartisan support by the Assembly this week, validates that access to publicly funded spaces is an essential right for everyone. Surely, if casinos are exempted from immediate shuttering during government shutdowns, our recreational spaces deserve the same consideration.

Editor's Note: The 27th legislative district includes: Caldwell, Chatham Township, East Hanover, Essex Fells, Florham Park, Hanover, Harding, Livingston, Madison, Maplewood, Millburn, Roseland, South Orange and West Orange.