This Pennsylvania Recreation Area Gets as Much Visitation as Many National Parks: Here’s Why It Hasn’t Become One Yet

by Amy Myers

With 70,000 acres, the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area in Pennsylvania sees more visitation than some of our national parks. With fishing, hiking, hunting, boating and camping opportunities, there seems to be no reason why the Pennsylvania attraction shouldn’t be our next national park. However, the potential renaming of the recreational area has caused quite a controversy.

The Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area straddles a section of the Delaware River on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania border. Its versatility in all of the activities and experiences it offers is one of the reasons that locals hold the area dear to their hearts.

From an outsider’s perspective, you may think that there would be no downside to the name change. The area would receive federal funding. Not to mention, the title would draw more visitors, helping with revenue for the park and surrounding towns.

However, opposers have argued that changing the Pennsylvania recreation area into a national park will take away some of the park’s characteristics that make it such a well-loved attraction.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey Recreationists Fear National Park Title Will Take Away Fishing and Hunting Opportunities

The Sierra Club chapters of Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as the former recreation area Superintendent John Donahue are working to change the name. Should the recreational area receive a new name, it would become the Delaware Water Gap National Park and Lenape Preserve. But if this happens, that could mean that there could be fewer opportunities for top-notch hunting and fishing. Not to mention, the extra visitors could cause overcrowding and result in damage to the area’s vegetation and trails.

To the point of fishing and hunting, supporters argue that the potential national park will also include a preserve where these sports are allowed. However, even the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance is withholding its support. The alliance hopes that the initiative will include more details about this preserve and its boundaries.

Initially, the Warren County Board of County Commissioners supported the name change. But after hearing from several hunting groups recently, they have since changed their opinion. During last week’s meeting, Commissioner James Kern  stated that the board “does not support the Delaware Water Gap (designation) without hunting.”

“We usually support Warren County 100%,” said Commissioner Dawn Fantasia. “But I don’t think we would go along with the no hunting issue.” 

Supporters believe that the trade-off is worth the sacrifice, even if that means no hunting or fishing. The national park title would bring attention to the history of the Lenape Nation. These people lived in Pennsylvania 10,000 years before European settlers arrived. However, hunting and fishing were a large part of the Lenape people’s lives. So, opponents of the park’s name change believe to honor these people, there must be potential for these activities.