The aptly named Garden State has designated slightly more than 20% or about 2 of every 10 acres for parks and wildlife. In Alaska, it is almost 40% or 4 of every 10 acres for a total of 144 million acres of parks.
The research, conducted by a team from CLIQ Chairs, a company that manufactures chairs designed for outdoor use, shows New Jersey has set aside 945,000 of its 4.7 million acres to parks.
Coincidentally, this month, New Jersey celebrates the 60th anniversary of the first Green Acres bond act "that has led to the preservation of some 1.6 million acres in the nation’s most densely populated state," said Department of Environmental Protection acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette.
Green shows park areas in New Jersey.
"New Jersey residents can take special pride in this because they have consistently supported bond acts over the years that have funded expansions of state parks and forests, preservation of wildlife management areas and farmland, creation of parks and recreation opportunities in cities and towns across the state, and so much more," said LaTourette.
New Jersey's goal, LaTourette said, "is to provide something for everyone like high-quality parks in every neighborhood, so people can take a short walk to a green space where they can relax, recharge, and play." That effort, he said is not at the expense of efforts to preserve forests, wetlands and other natural areas "to ensure a healthy diversity of wildlife and plants, especially focusing on connectivity of these important habitats."
That research put Alaska at the top of recreation value added per capita at nearly $3,000 per resident. New Jersey had $1,320 in recreation value added per capita, but its population base is about 12 times more than Alaska.
As part of its research, CLIQ found a "dramatic" increase in efforts to protect land across the country. In 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii "were admitted to the Union," rural parks and wildlife areas totaled around 46 million acres in the U.S. By 2012, that number was more than 253 million acres, the report stated.
Of course, in 1980 federal legislation effectively doubled the amount of federal parks and wildlife area with its designation of more than 157 million acres of land in Alaska.
In New Jersey, the Green Acres program provides state money to municipal and county governments to purchase land for perpetual protection. In most cases, the local money is raised by a voter-approved tax on property.
The CLIQ report also focused on the economic value of outdoor recreation, which topped $400 billion in 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, as indoor venues were closed, there was a noted increase in attendance at outdoor venues, such as parks, hiking/biking trails and water sports such as kayaking.
There is no accurate estimate of visitors to the state park system since parts or all of many parks are free to enter. As an example, Kittatinny Valley State Park oversees a network of bike/hike trails on old railroad beds in Sussex County where there are many access points. Lake Hopatcong is a state-owned park, but there are many private and public boat launch areas around the lake, similar to Swartswood Lake which has a pay-to-swim beach but many trails which where access is not monitored.
At the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which straddles the Delaware River, officials said the park was the 10th most-visited national park unit in the country in 2020 with 4.1 million visits recorded.
Since the entire park is free to access, those visits are calculated by automated vehicle counts on some of the park's roadways, and attendant counts at various parking areas.
Spokespeople for the state DEP and the recreation area said they expected visitor counts to remain high this summer, even as the pandemic appears to be waning and many commercial venues reopen to the public.
There are 51 state parks in the Garden State, according to the state's DEP site, which offers details on each.
The largest of the parks, Wawayanda State Park, established in 1960 in Sussex County, has 32,524 acres. The smallest, with 32 acres is the Barnegat Lighthouse State Park in Ocean County, established in 1951.
The newest of the state parks, established in 2015, is the Tall Pines in Gloucester County and the oldest, established in 1777 is the Princeton Battlefield State Park in Mercer County.
Written, Compiled & Edited by
The Bergen Review Media Team