Over the holiday weekend, as the country prepared to celebrate its independence, families around New Jersey and beyond waited anxiously to hear if our legislature and governor would reach an agreement on the state budget. The constitutionally-required agreement would ensure the State of New Jersey didn’t shut down on June 30th at midnight. Unfortunately, the only announcement that ever came was from the governor closing state government for all non-essential state services. 

This left New Jersey families and visitors planning trips to visit our parks and state beaches out in the cold. Camping trips, beach plans, fireworks and parades, boy scout trips, church groups, long-planned family vacations—cancelled because our state leaders couldn’t reach an agreement on the budget. 

The shut-down resulted in three days where our state parks and beaches were shuttered. Campers already at parks were unceremoniously kicked out of the camping spots often reserved many months in advance. To read the many accounts in social media and the press was to hear the stories of vacations ruined, moms and dads wondering what to tell their kids about long-planned family getaways, parents worried about vacation time they had already taken in anticipation of trips.

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During a government shut-down, the second of its kind in our history, all non-essential functions cease. According to the state’s definition, state parks and beaches aren’t essential.  

We disagree.

Access to our state parks and beaches should be a right, not a privilege reserved for the governor. All citizens of our state deserve access to these open spaces to get outdoors—to play, rest, recreate, fish, enjoy nature, recharge and so much more. The benefits of getting kids and families outdoors has been seen in study after study. And these public places are paid for by our state tax dollars and revenue from visitors. 

On one of the busiest tourism holidays of the year, shutting down the parks doesn’t make “cents” either. The economic impact on businesses around the state was surely felt, with many business owners weighing in about the impact. Future loss of revenue will surely follow as families may be unwilling to “risk” planning a visit in the future. Leaving aside one notable exception which gained national attention, all of our residents and visitors were stripped of their right to recreate and enjoy their publicly funded parks and beaches.

In 2006, after the shut-down of casinos during the budget stalemate, the Legislature introduced legislation to permit casinos to continue to operate during shut-downs in the future. The casinos had been shuttered because they could not function without oversight from the state Casino Control Commission.   

Surely our state parks and beaches are deserving of similar protection. Our public lands should not be held hostage by state budget negotiations. We are calling on the legislature to introduce legislation to consider our state parks, wildlife areas and beaches essential. We should not play politics with our parks. 

To join us, sign our petition at http://www.njkeepitgreen.org/petitionto and ask your legislator to “Protect our Parks!”