It’s been a year since the famous Fourth of July shutdown of New Jersey’s beaches and parks, the victims of Trenton politics.

The Governor and the Legislature were unable to pass a balanced budget for fiscal ’18, leading to several days of a frustrating state shutdown, resulting in senseless state park and beach closures. Yes, we all have fond memories of Chris Christie memes, as he sat in that famous beach chair, on a near-empty beach.

This budget year, we have a different governor, and assume we have a very different beach chair. But many of the same issues still exist for fiscal ’19, with threats, once again, of a state budget impasse. Without a balanced budget on June 30, all non-essential services of the state will again shut down.

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For some reason, New Jersey doesn’t deem its beautiful beaches, parks, recreation and natural areas, forests, and historical sites as essential services.

But, at New Jersey Audubon, we staunchly disagree.

That’s why we are supporting legislation known as (S835/A1237). If passed, the bill would keep these treasured locations open for a week in the event of a state government shutdown. It would give the Legislature ample time to approve a budget, while ensuring public spaces, paid for by our hard-earned tax dollars, are kept open during one of the busiest holidays of the year.

These public spaces offer health benefits to citizens of all ages by promoting physical activity and relaxation. Forests and natural areas are especially important in wooing people outdoors to recreate and enjoy nature. Along with our many historical areas, they serve as treasured destinations for educational opportunities and youth programs.

Consider these recreational areas critical to our quality of life. Residents and visitors should not be barred from using beaches and parks on a well-deserved holiday weekend just because elected officials can’t come together on a state budget.

The policy to close these places strips away recreational opportunities and results in significant economic loss. Family vacations get cancelled, camps closed, even weddings can be delayed. 

Temporary closures can result in thousands of dollars in lost revenue for the state in entrance fees, and millions more lost by camps, hotels and local businesses depending on summertime visitors to subsidize the harsh winters.

Closures not only hurt those whose plans were disrupted, but it also drastically hurts our economy. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, it’s estimated that New Jersey’s outdoor recreation in 2017 supported 143,00 direct jobs, $18.9 billion in consumer spending, $5.9 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.

After a 2006 government shutdown, the Legislature determined that closing casinos because of a lack of regulators was a bad idea, so they passed legislation to safeguard casinos from the political bickering in Trenton. Our beaches, parks, recreation and natural areas, forests, and historical sites help to define the Garden State, and they deserve at least the equal protection and prominence given to casinos.

New Jersey Audubon and the Keep it Green Coalition, which comprise more than 150 organizations that advocate for open space, farmland, and historic preservation, consider S835/A1237 a common sense solution to ensure our residents and visitors have access to our state’s great outdoor areas.

This bill validates the common belief that access to publicly-funded spaces is an essential right for all New Jerseyans. We urge lawmakers in Trenton to come together on this one issue, protecting the Fourth of July weekends for years to come.  For more information visit https://njaudubon.org/government-relations.

Eric Stiles is President & CEO of New Jersey Audubon.