Trenton — In opening a new facet of what it called the “jewel in the New Jersey State Park system,” the state is lowballing that it will charge families between $125 and $225 to picnic in the only sheltered areas in Liberty State Park. Although the picnic pavilions were built almost entirely with taxpayer funds, the stiff fees are part of Governor Chris Christie’s “Sustainable Parks Plan.”
Last week, the state unveiled its new picnic area featuring dramatic views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline inside Liberty State Park. The two new pavilions, called the Freedom Field Picnic Pavilions, have a total capacity of around 200 visitors and are the only sheltered picnic areas in the park.
The structures cost $1.8 million financed by tax funds, public grants and donations. Each pavilion has lights, outlets and charcoal grills. They share one “eco-friendly” restroom facility “with translucent walls providing natural light, waterless urinals, low-water use toilets and electric hand dryers instead of paper towel dispensers,” according to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) press release.
While the DEP press release mentions that an “affordable day-use fee for each pavilion will be applied,” it does not specify the amount. Neither does the park website. An inquiry by PEER revealed that the day-use charge for New Jersey residents will be between $125 and $175 for the not-so-free Freedom Field Pavilions. Out-of-staters would be charged between $175 and $225.
“These high fees price a picnic in the park beyond the reach of many New Jersey families,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the Christie “Sustainable Parks Plan” seeks to transform state parks from amenities into profit centers. “Restricting use of public parks facilities to the exclusive reserved use of paying ‘customers’ harkens back to the Gilded Age – the concept is anathema to the notion of a public park.”
In contrast to steep fees imposed on picnickers, DEP is still not collecting fair market value on hundreds of corporate leases, easements and concessions on state parklands, thus forfeiting millions of dollars. In an August 2011 report, the state pledged to do better but still has not modified flawed regulations or sweetheart easements and lease contracts to reflect fair market value.
“While saying parks should be run like a business, the Christie folks neglect the most basic business principles, such as charging fair rents and then remembering to collect them.” Wolfe added, noting that higher user fees at places like Liberty Pavilions are a highly regressive and inefficient way to raise park revenues. “The Christie Sustainable Parks Plan should be called the Corporate Subsidy Parks Plan.”
Read the DEP press release announcing the new pavilions
Look at the park website which does not mention fees
See discounts given to corporate users of park facilities
Look at state report of principles but no action
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability