The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – in parts of both New Jersey and Pennsylvania – receives millions of visitors each year. Although the area isn’t a national park, some groups have been trying to change that situation for years.
One of the groups advocating for change is the Sierra Club. Donald Miles, vice chair of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, explained in an Associated Press article that designating the area as a national park rather than a recreation area to a national park would give the area a larger budget that can be used for amenities and infrastructure.
“We basically see the same number of tourists as Yellowstone, but without the commensurate budget,” Miles said.
John Kashwick, vice chair of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said turning the Water Gap into a national park is a “social justice issue.”
“It’s not just scenery,” Kashwick said in the article. “Its proximity to large urban centers like New York and Philadelphia make the area accessible to millions.”
The Reason For The Area’s Growing Popularity
In 2019, 3.37 million visitors traveled to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and in 2020 it received nearly 4.1 million visitors, according to the National Park Service. Meanwhile, in 2019, 4 million people visited Yellowstone and 3.8 million people visited the park in 2020.
Here’s what makes the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area so special. It includes 70,000 acres, with more than 150 miles of trails and 40 miles of the Middle Delaware River. It gets its “Water Gap” name because the Delaware River cuts through a large ridge of the Appalachian Mountains in the area before running 200 miles to Delaware Bay and then emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Wilmington, Delaware.
Also of note, the park has a number of important Native American archaeological sites, structures from an early Dutch settlement, and even historic rural villages from the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s also known for numerous waterfalls, including Raymondskill Falls, which is the tallest waterfall in Pennsylvania, as well as Silver Thread Falls and Dingmans Falls.
National Park Designation
There are two main reasons that the Sierra Club has been working to get the area designated as a national park.
First, there are no national parks in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or New York.
“Recognizing the area as a national park would bestow the respect and significance the area deserves — and give Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York residents their first national park,” a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial notes. “There are, generally, far too few national parks east of the Mississippi, certainly disproportionate to our share of natural wonders.”
Secondly, as was noted, designating the Delaware Water Gap as a national park means that funding for conservation and infrastructure would increase dramatically. Currently, the Delaware Water Gap currently receives $8.2 million from the National Parks Service while Yellowstone receives $27.6 million – despite the parks having similar visitation levels. The much-needed increase in funding could be used to support growing infrastructure requirements, including supporting roads, parking, and trail conservation, the editorial notes.
Supporters for designating the Delaware Water Gap as a national park look to work done getting West Virginia’s New River Gorge named as a national park as a template of sorts. That park was named as a national park despite worries from some local citizens that the area lacked amenities to handle an increase in tourism.
This case is completely different. That’s because millions of visitors already travel to the Delaware Water Gap each year. The area already essentially functions as a national park.
Sean Strub, mayor of Milford, Pike County, said in the Associated Press article that he isn’t aware of any opposition to designating the Delaware Water Gap as a national park. What’s more, Milford, which is the northern gateway to the Water Gap, already has a hotel, rentals, and restaurants, he said.
“The Water Gap is already a deciding factor in all our development plans here,” Strub said. “It’s why people move to Pike County and why they visit. The Water Gap can definitely handle a lot more people, but maybe not a lot more cars.”
If the national park plan is approved, the change could happen “immediately,” John Donahue, who spent 14 years as park superintendent of the Delaware Water Gap, said.
“This place already functions like a national park,” Donahue said. “We’d basically just need some new signs.”
Know Before You Go
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a long, narrow park that sits along the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. You can find directions to visit the area here.
If you’d like to visit Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, you can plan your visit using tips written by the rangers who work there. You can find their advice here.
Be sure to check out all of our U.S. National Park coverage, including