Township of Westfield, NJ

Somerset County Park System

Parks and Recreation News Articles

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  • 12/30/2020 9:25 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Article from NJ Spotlight News - 

    DEP official defends land-use plan against attack by business group

    JON HURDLE, CONTRIBUTING WRITER | DECEMBER 30, 2020 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENTWATER

    Official says state must protect public from climate change effects, rejects criticism that potential rules are ‘fundamentally flawed’

    Credit: (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

    DEP official says state has an obligation to plan for higher seas and bigger storms even if that means it will be harder to build in flood-prone areas in future. In this Oct. 30, 2012 file photo, a firehouse is surrounded by floodwaters in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in Hoboken.

    A top environmental official defended a preliminary outline of new regulations designed to better protect New Jersey’s land and property from the effects of climate change, saying the state has an obligation to plan now for higher seas and bigger storms even if that means it will be harder to build in flood-prone areas in future.

    Shawn LaTourette, deputy commissioner at the Department of Environmental Protection, said the DEP has a responsibility to extend its authority over areas that are expected to be partially or completely flooded in coming decades, according to widely accepted forecasts by climate scientists.

    In an interview with NJ Spotlight News on Tuesday, he rejected accusations by a leading business organization that the potential rules would damage the economy by making it harder to develop flood-prone areas, and are based on sea-level rise forecasts that are too far in the future to be credible now.

    LaTourette was commenting on a so-called road map that will underpin regulations on land use, as part of a process called Protecting Against Climate Threats (NJ PACT). The rules will implement an executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy and are expected to be formally proposed in spring next year.

    Ray Cantor, vice president of government relations at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association criticized the plan as “fundamentally flawed” and economically damaging.

    New flooding ‘Risk Zone’

    Among other things, the rules would establish a new Inundation Risk Zone under which significant areas of the Atlantic and Delaware Bay shores would be flooded daily or permanently by the end of century because of seas that Rutgers University scientists have forecast will be 5 feet higher than they were in 2000. By 2050, seas are predicted to rise by about 2 feet.

    In the Risk Zone, new buildings would require a “hardship exemption” under which applicants for a building permit would have to prove that there is no other reasonable use for the site and that preventing construction would constitute an exceptional and undue hardship. Existing homes in the zone would have to be elevated a foot above a new standard called the Climate Adjusted Flood Elevation (CAFÉ), while non-residential and non-critical buildings would have to be flood-proofed if elevation is impractical.

    In tidal areas, the CAFÉ standard would be 5 feet above the level set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a 100-year storm — that which is expected to occur only once in 100 years. The state is proposing the new standard to anticipate future climate effects, replacing the widely criticized federal standard that is based on a historical pattern.

    The document was presented to an online meeting of about 200 stakeholders on Dec. 22. The meeting included a presentation by the DEP’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Watershed and Land Management, Vincent Mazzei, who said the possible rule changes could increase the floodplain area to as much as 45% of the state’s land.

    Growing the floodplains

    “As a result of climate change, existing floodplains have already grown and this trend will continue,” Mazzei said in a statement released by the DEP on Tuesday. “To help New Jersey residents and businesses more effectively respond to the current and future risks of climate change, the rule amendments being developed by DEP could extend flood hazard areas by under 5 percent, bringing added protections to vulnerable areas of the state.”

    Cantor of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said, “We’re going to take an area that is not flooding now and regulate it as if it does, and prevent development in that area,” adding, “You’re going have areas that have never flooded before and may not flood in 50 years being denied permits or being told to elevate their structures.”

    He argued that the plan is “fundamentally flawed” by being based on a sea-level rise forecast by the Rutgers panel that calculates only a 17% probability of sea-level rise of 5.1 feet from the 2000 level, assuming moderate global carbon emissions.

    “We accept climate change is happening but the prediction of what’s going to happen in the future is still highly speculative,” he said. “It’s not hard science; the longer out you go, the less certain those projections are.”

    Decisions that should not be left to bureaucrats?

    What DEP appears to be proposing, Cantor argued, is a retreat from flood-prone areas like Hoboken or Atlantic City, and if any such seismic change is ever necessary, it should be required by the Legislature “rather than in a backroom by bureaucrats at the DEP.”

    But LaTourette rejected the argument that making it harder to build in future flood zones would be economically damaging. In fact, he said, property owners could enhance values if they can show that they have conformed with new rules requiring a higher degree of protection against rising waters.

    “There’s nothing about this proposal that diminishes our ability to have robust economic development; quite the contrary,” he said. “Folks in the development community can say they have a value proposition to their clients. They can say, ‘We’ve looked at the risks in the long term, and you can feel confident buying a new home from us.’”

    Despite the potential new restrictions on coastal development, the DEP will not be telling people where they can and cannot build houses, LaTourette said.

    “It does not mean, absolutely no way you can’t build in that area; it means that you have to meet certain standards,” he said. “We’re going to help people protect themselves, their assets and each other from what the future risks are.”

    He rejected the attacks by the business community, saying DEP has a responsibility to protect the whole state.

    Anticipating ‘a major battle’

    “There are some, because they are concerned with a shorter risk-profit paradigm, might think that any additional requirement is just another step too much,” he said. “But our job is to protect everyone and our natural resources, and so perpetuating an environment in which we go for the lower bar effectively displaces future risk on someone else.”

    Tim Dillingham, executive director of the New Jersey-based American Littoral Society, said the proposals in the framework document are firmly rooted in environmental laws including the Coastal Area Facility Review Act and the Flood Hazards Control Act, which give the DEP broad authority to protect public health and welfare by setting the potential new regulations.

    “The state is on very firm ground; they clearly have both the responsibility and the obligation to anticipate what flooding looks like in the future,” said Dillingham, who has participated in the DEP’s stakeholder process, and attended the Dec. 22 meeting.

    The new rules would also cover nature-based responses to climate change such as dunes to defend coastlines from higher seas, and coastal marshes to absorb their impact — both of which are examples of the measures advocated by his group, Dillingham said.

    New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel welcomed the expansion of flood zones and increased protection for wetlands proposed in the document, but predicted that the new rules will be strongly contested by parties opposing new development restrictions.

    “Any time you try to change land use in New Jersey, it’s going to be a major battle,” he said.


  • 12/03/2020 8:55 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    Article from today’s NJ Spotlight News –  American Littoral Society brings new strategy to Delaware Bayshore protection.

    * * * * * * *

    JON HURDLE, CONTRIBUTING WRITER | DECEMBER 3, 2020 | ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

    New project to combine coastal defense with natural measures to help coastal resiliency

    Looking west toward Delaware Bay over Basket Flats at the mouth of the Maurice River

    New Jersey’s efforts to defend its coasts from rising seas will take another step forward under a new plan to build breakwaters and restore marshland at the mouth of the Maurice River in Cumberland County.

    A team led by the American Littoral Society has been awarded $4.8 million in federal funds as part of a $12 million project to build some 6,600 feet of breakwaters and rock barriers that will resist storm surges while helping the shoreline to regenerate naturally after being battered by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

    The rock breakwaters are being designed as “hybrid living shorelines” that will include oyster reefs, mussel beds and plantings of marsh grass to defend a peninsula called Basket Flats — an area of coastline that lies between the Delaware Bay and the coastal towns of Bivalve and Shell Pile in Commercial Township on the west side of the river, and Leesburg and Heislerville in Maurice River Township on the east side.

    CLICK HERE to read more.

  • 12/03/2020 8:50 AM | Kathleen Avitt (Administrator)

    By Gabriel PopkinNov. 12, 2020 , 10:32 AM ScienceMag.org

    DELAWARE, OHIO—On a weekday morning in August, just one pickup truck sat in the sprawling visitors’ parking lot here at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Forestry Sciences Laboratory. A decadeslong decline in research funding had been slowly quieting the place—and then came the pandemic.

    But in a narrow strip of grass behind a homely, 1960s-era building, forest geneticist Jennifer Koch was overseeing a hive of activity. A team of seven technicians, researchers, and students—each masked and under their own blue pop-up tent—were systematically dissecting 3-meter-tall ash trees in a strange sort of arboreal disassembly line. Over 5 weeks, the researchers would take apart some 400 saplings, peeling wood back layer by layer in search of the maggotlike larvae of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), the most devastating insect ever to strike a North American tree. Since the Asian beetle was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, it has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees across half the continent and caused tens of billions of dollars of damage.

    Click Here to read full article.


  • 08/05/2019 12:06 PM | Anonymous

    PRINCETON, NJ - Below is a taste of the brilliant article written by, NJRPA member and the Director of Parks and Recreation for Red Bank, Charles Hoffman. As posted on the Parks&RecBusiness.com website.

    I shake my head as I look around at a converted space that serves as a shrine to all-things parks and recreation. The walls are covered with awards and articles. Journals and research periodicals fill the spaces in between, along with pictures from successful projects throughout the country. One might think I am sitting in a university library or a college recreation room; however, I am in the research facility of a man endlessly dedicated to our industry—a true legend who has inspired thousands of individuals over the years.

    Dr. Harold Nolan’s life reads like a Hollywood movie for parks and rec professionals. His accomplishments are endless, and his story is one that newbies to the industry and even seasoned veterans can benefit from hearing. He lives and breathes parks and recreation, revealing his contagious personality and passion for the industry.

    Early Life
    It all began in Middletown, N.J. The son of a World War II veteran turned local builder, Nolan spent his early life filled with traditional recreational endeavors that most children enjoy, including baseball and basketball. He also excelled in diving and surfing (and still can be seen riding waves today). But Nolan showed the most promise in running, and this passion would serve him well throughout his life.

    As a high school runner in Monmouth County, N.J., he quickly formed a relationship with Dr. George Sheehan, a rival’s father from a nearby town. Sheehan is known as one of the godfathers of the running boom. He wrote books and countless articles on all aspects of the sport and became an enormous advocate of all-things running in the area, even serving as the medical editor for Runner’s World magazine. Sheehan took a liking to young Nolan and would regularly cram his Volkswagen with Nolan, Sheehan’s sons, Timmy and George Jr., and as many other runners as he could uncomfortably squeeze in for meets throughout New Jersey and New York. Nolan describes the legendary track guru as “certainly brilliant and yet somewhat aloof. [He was] a hard man to truly know.”

    Follow the link to enjoy more of the article: PRB Article - "A Living Legend"


  • 04/25/2019 9:39 AM | Anonymous

    LIVINGSTON, NJ — For the second time this year, Livingston’s Senior, Youth and Leisure Services (SYLS) has achieved one of the highest honors that a municipality’s recreation department can achieve. Jennifer Walker, director of the department, recently became the second person in New Jersey to be named a Certified Park and Recreation Executive (CPRE).

    Walker’s family, including her three children, Elizabeth, Emily and Zachary, attended Monday night’s township council along with a group of enthusiastic staff members who carried photos of Walker and congratulatory signs while Mayor Al Anthony presented her with a commemorative plaque from the township recognizing this accomplishment.

    “You’re one of only two people in the State of New Jersey to hold this certification, making you the pinnacle of your profession,” said Anthony. “This is terrific. It’s the highest level that you can achieve. It recognizes leadership in all aspects of managing a Parks and Recreation Department, master of policy development and the management of fiscal property and personnel resources.”

    Walker, a New York native and a resident of West Caldwell, joined the Livingston Township family in 2009 and has sat on various committees that involved finance, programming and fundraising. Her department, which functions out of the upper level of the Senior and Community Center on Hillside Avenue, oversees all community programming for the township, including operations of both aquatic facilities, the township's summer camp, the Shining Stars program for special needs individuals and much more.

    Speaking on behalf of Walker’s staff, Liliana Branquinho, Senior & Adult Enrichment and Special Events Supervisor, said she asked the township to acknowledge this accomplishment because she “thought it was important for Livingston to know that we have the pinnacle of recreation professionals in Livingston. ”

    In addition to thanking the council and Township Manager Barry Lewis—stating that her department would not be able to provide all of the services it currently does without their support—Walker also thanked her family members for all they sacrifice in order to allow her to be successful. She then recognized the members of her SYLS staff, whom she described as being “by far the best work family that anybody could ever ask for.”

    “The Township of Livingston is unbelievably lucky to have this team working for them,” said Walker. “They put in so many hours and they are so innovative and progressive, and they are constantly pushing and pushing and pushing to offer the residents more and more and more. I could not be prouder of them and I am very grateful.”

    Anthony expressed his thrill in seeing the SYLS department back at Town Hall again so soon after being acknowledged for receiving the Daniel M. Gasalberti Award for Excellence in Recreation Programming for the department’s 30th Annual Intergenerational Prom. On behalf of the township and all its residents, Anthony said it was an honor to recognize the department for yet another accomplishment and thanked Walker for her service to the township.

    According to the National Recreation and Park Association, the CPRE is a “mastery-level credential” that focuses on the practical knowledge and current real-world skills that are “necessary in today’s changing park and recreation environment.”  The certification “establishes a national standard for managerial, administrative and executive parks and recreation professionals.”

    Some of the career advantages that comes with achieving this level of professionalism include:

    • Demonstrating leadership in all aspects of managing a park and recreation department;
    • Mastering policy development and the management of fiscal, property and personnel resources;
    • Gaining an edge over other candidates when a promotion opportunity pops up or his/her dream job calls; and
    • Joining an elite group of nearly 250 CPRE's who have committed to advancing the field of parks and recreation management.
    Please click here for the original article.
  • 04/02/2019 3:28 PM | Anonymous

    (19/P020) TRENTON – New Jersey will be the first state in the nation to sell annual state parks passes through a public lands pass website, giving visitors the opportunity to save gas, time and money by avoiding daily walk-in costs and parking fees, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced today.

    The online purchase program through YourPassNow takes effect on Monday, April 1 and stems from an existing partnership between the DEP’s Division of Parks and Forestry and the New Jersey Division of NICUSA Inc. YourPassNow is a digital marketplace that makes it easy and convenient for visitors to purchase online electronic passes, permits and tickets to public lands.

    “This partnership benefits the public in a variety of ways and is another example of New Jersey’s environmental leadership on a national level,” Commissioner McCabe said. “Instead of driving to a park office to buy an annual pass or mailing an application, visitors can order an annual state parks decal online at their convenience and affix it to their vehicle’s windshield. Using this method will allow visitors to save transportation time and costs and help reduce fuel emissions.”

    YourPassNow.com offers online purchase of passes to approximately 22 federal and state sites, most of which are in the western half of the United States. With New Jersey’s entry into the program, residents and non-residents have the option to buy a decal to affix to their vehicle’s windshield that will provide entrance for one calendar year to state parks, forests and historic sites. Fees vary, and a $3 per-pass surcharge will apply to every purchase.

    “The Division of Parks and Forestry is excited to offer a new and convenient way to purchase a New Jersey State Park Pass through YourPassNow,” said Olivia Glenn, Parks and Forestry Director. “We hope to attract more state park pass holders who enjoy our forests, beaches, historic sites and the 1,000 miles of trails in the state park system.”

    Visitors can order one or more passes, including discounted household passes, for other members of their household, or as gifts for family and friends.

    The State Park Service includes 47 state parks, forests, recreation areas, battlefields and marinas. Camping is available at 19 sites ranging from Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in the Pinelands to Stokes State Forest near the Delaware Water Gap to Parvin State Park in Salem County. Visit www.camping.nj.gov to reserve a camping site.

    The New Jersey Division of NICUSA, Inc. is the official digital government partner of New Jersey, assisting governmental entities with web-enabling their information services.

    NICUSA, Inc. has partnered with the DEP on other information services projects, including development of the award-winning campground reservation system NJ Outdoors at camping.nj.gov and WARN NJDEP, a smart device app that allows the public to report non-emergency environmental incidents. WARN NJDEP is available in the Google Play store and the Apple App Store.

    For a list of fees and to purchase an annual pass to New Jersey’s Parks, Forests and Historic Sites, visit https://yourpassnow.com/parkpass.

    To learn more about New Jersey’s Parks, Forests and Historic Sites, visit www.njparksandforests.org.

    Like the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/newjerseystateparks.

    Follow the New Jersey State Park Service on Instagram @newjerseystateparks.

    Follow the DEP on Twitter @NewJerseyDEP.

    Please Click Here For Original Article

  • 01/24/2019 3:27 PM | Anonymous

    In the summer of 2017, the mother of a teenage male child with special needs approached our staff asking for help. She could not enter the men’s locker room to assist her son with changing into dry clothes at the township’s municipal pool facility. The pool manager or a lifeguard would help as best as he could.

    This prompted our administration to approve a temporary family changing area on site that included privacy screening and a portable sanitation system for this past season. It prompted the Parks and Recreation Department this off-season to review the existing amenities in the facility to determine if there was room for improvement.

    The pool facility is more than 40 years old and has never been renovated, albeit areas of the locker rooms and restrooms were retrofitted over the years to conform with progressing ADA and state building regulations.
    In 2005, the township undertook a major renovation of the outdoor pool and grounds. This included demolition of the existing 10,000-square-foot, “L”-shaped pool, concrete pool decking and walkways. They were replaced with a 15,000-square-foot pool that included a zero-depth entry area, spraypark amenities, a drop slide and a 20-foot-tall looping flume slide. At that time, it was determined that the facilities were satisfactory and would not be part of the scope of work.

    After an inspection of the facility over this past summer, we realized that there were large areas of both gender locker rooms that were underutilized and could be configured for greater use by our members.

    We hired an architect to redesign these areas to maximize usable member space, while also updating the existing amenities. We proposed the addition of three family changing rooms that will include showers, sinks and toilets. We are also exploring the opportunity to increase our off-season storage capacity by re-designing the existing large, underused locker room and lounge areas that currently inhabit the facility. Existing sinks, showers, and lockers also will be replaced and their locations reconsidered.

    Our goal is to enhance the overall pool facility experience for our membership. The pool itself is a welcoming feature on the property, and we want the building to be equally as inviting.

    LESSONS LEARNED

    1 Listen to your members and staff. They are the individuals who walk and utilize the facility on a daily basis during the season. They may be able to offer sound advice about what works, what doesn’t, and what is needed.

    2 Think creatively. We need to renovate this building, yet at the same time, keep it within an accurate budget and remodel it so that it appeals to the current membership. Barriers to participation often are not only the pool: The environment is just as important.

    3 Determine a realistic time frame. When we began talking about building renovations, I believed it could be completed before the next swim season. After getting more involved with the intricacies of the design and construction, I might have to revisit my initial belief.

    Original Article: https://www.aquaticsintl.com/facilities/be-open-to-new-ideas-and-changes_o

  • 10/03/2018 2:55 PM | Anonymous

    The parent of a camper who attends a half-day summer school program explained to me one day that she had never learned to swim and has regretted it ever since. Mrs. Lopez implored me to find a solution so that her son, and other campers who were missing swim instruction due to their summer school schedules, could learn this critical life-skill.

    We were immediately interested.

    Providing swim lessons to as many Princeton residents as possible is a top priority every summer at Community Park Pool in Princeton, N.J. We offer many group lesson options, as well as lessons to our entire day camp program, which includes approximately 300 campers in grades 1-6. Swim instruction and all aquatic programming historically have occurred each morning prior to the pool opening for public swim.

    Approximately 100 summer campers participate in the half-day school program each morning, which leads to them often missing the opportunity to participate in swim lessons. After exploring possible scheduling and transportation adjustments with our local school district, it became clear that it was going to be up to our staff to find a way for these campers to participate in swim lessons.

    Many summer-school students who attend camp are African-American and Latino — and many families also qualify for free or reduced lunch based on household income levels. The USA Swimming Foundation reported in 2017 that results from a study by the University of Memphis and the University of Las Vegas found 64 percent of African-American children and 45 percent of Latino children have no/low swimming ability. The study found that children in a free/reduced lunch program are 63 percent less likely to have good swimming abilities and 79 percent of children in households with less than $50,000 of income have no/low swim abilities.

    Representing a very diverse community, these statistics keep me up at night.

    Despite scheduling, transportation and other logistical barriers, my staff “took the plunge” to create an afternoon swim lessons program for the summer-school campers, held twice weekly in 30-minute blocks between 1:45 and 2:45 p.m.

    Thanks to precise coordination by our staff, my concern about bucking our own history and attempting to conduct lessons during a busy public swim time slot became a non-issue. The afternoon swim lessons provided twice-per-week instruction to nearly 100 children, and by moving the summer-schoolers out of the morning lessons, it allowed us to staff both sets of lessons more efficiently, maintaining our preferred instructor/student ratio and also avoiding being over-staffed.

    Many campers graduated from Level 1 to 2, or higher, and some even reached a proficiency level that allowed them to use the diving board and slide! Due to our staff’s vision, flexibility and commitment to being solution finders, we turned a loss into a win for our community. Oh, and we convinced Mrs. Lopez to enroll in adult swim lessons and she is now a regular slide user!


    Lessons Learned

    1. Turn barriers into opportunities. What we perceived as barriers became opportunities to provide additional services — and to provide them more efficiently.

    2. Don’t talk about — be about it. Everyone agreed that a solution was needed. After many meetings discussing the issue, we stopped participating in meetings and mapped out a solution.

    3. Don’t allow history to dictate the future. Our pool users are territorial about their time slots and pool spaces. My hesitancy to upset the apple cart by introducing a large-scale programming option during a busy public swim time is something that I wish I’d abandoned much sooner in this case.

    Click here for original article.

  • 09/28/2018 4:23 PM | Anonymous

    Union County residents interested helping to conserve local natural habitats can join the county's new Watchung Reservation Invasive Plant Strike Force.

    "Our Strike Force volunteers will help create a more welcoming, healthy habitat for native wildlife including birds, butterflies and other valuable pollinators," said Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados. "Volunteering in our County parks is a very satisfying way to give back to the community and make a real impact on our local environment."

    The Watchung Reservation is Union County's largest park and nature conservation area. Members of the Strike Force will be trained to identify and eliminate invasive species that have been encroaching into the park. Invasive plant species are not challenged by natural foragers or competitors. As they spread, they displace other plants. Invasive species have a destructive ripple effect that displaces wildlife as well as other plants.

    The Strike Force training is offered through the Union County Department of Parks and Recreation in partnership with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. The training session will take place on Sunday, Oct. 7 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Trailside Nature and Science Center, located at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. Light refreshments will be provided.

    The session will be led by Michael Van Clef, stewardship director for Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space and a co-founder of the New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team. Participants will learn about the problem of invasive species, and learn how to identify the biggest and newest offenders. They will learn monitoring and eradication methods through hands-on demonstrations. Volunteers who sign up for the Strike Force will be assigned specific sections of the Watchung Reservation to monitor. The training session is free but registration is required online at tinyurl.com/y9xzlezr.

    Original Article

  • 09/18/2018 2:16 PM | Anonymous

    If the region wants to extend its season, it needs more events, better marketing, and improved transportation — and the state to stop siphoning off hotel-room taxes.

    The state’s lucrative tourism industry could get a significant bump if it stretched out its prime shore season past the summer months. But in order to do so, it would have to invest in better event planning, more marketing and a renewed focus on public transportation, according to experts.

    Lawmakers took testimony at a hearing yesterday in Atlantic City on how to boost one of New Jersey’s largest tourism sectors — the Jersey Shore. The timing of the hearing coincided with the end of the traditional summer vacation season, when shore resorts typically experience an economic slowdown as kids go back to school.

    But several of the experts said good weather in New Jersey typically extends well into September, meaning the season could easily be extended to keep tourism dollars flowing. A longer season for visitors is one way to grow the market, but it might entail providing interesting events year-round.

    “We now have visitors coming 52 weeks a year, and we need things for them to do,” said Cape May developer Curtis Bashaw.

    The hearing, which was held at Stockton University’s new campus in the resort community, was the latest in a series convened by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee as it looks for ways to build upon the 100 million visitors that tourism already draws to New Jersey each year. Earlier hearings looked at ways to support the state’s burgeoning wineries and emphasize its colonial heritage in the run up to the U.S. Semiquincentennial in 2026.

    Other states gain advantage

    Tourism is one of New Jersey’s top industries, generating nearly $5 billion in state and local tax revenue from $43 billion of total spending by tourists, according to a recent study released by the state Division of Travel and Tourism.

    But for more than a decade, the state has been shortchanging its marketing of tourism; a large share of revenue raised from hotel-room taxes that is supposed to support arts, history, and tourism has been instead diverted into the state general fund to plug budget holes. Several experts said yesterday that those budget raids have allowed other states that compete with New Jersey to gain an advantage by using more sophisticated — and better funded — branding and marketing campaigns. So even when the state hosts concerts and other events outside the prime season that would be appealing to visitors, the word doesn’t always get out because of the limited marketing budget.

    “I will tell you, without a doubt, New Jersey is losing market share to competing states,” said Vicki Clark, president of the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association.

    Another self-inflicted wound, she said, is the state’s education calendar, which allows some schools to resume classes before Labor Day. Other states, like nearby Maryland, don’t send their students back to school until after the holiday, which allows more families to take vacations through Labor Day and beyond. “It’s something to really take a look at,” she said.

    Bruce Deifik, owner of the recently opened Ocean Resort casino, (the former Revel), urged lawmakers to make better use of Atlantic City International Airport, especially since it doesn’t face the kind of overcrowding that makes it difficult to fly into other places, including Philadelphia and Newark Liberty airports. That would also provide a boost to the region’s convention industry, which can operate year-round and it would keep hotel rooms filled in the colder months. “We already have the airport, it’s already there,” Deifik said. “It’s in very good shape.”

    Atlantic City airport underused

    The airport was also highlighted as an underutilized asset by Stockton University president Harvey Kesselman, who spoke of ways that a more focused transportation strategy could better serve the region. He held up Asbury Park, which is undergoing its own economic renaissance, as an example of a community with good train service that has become more than just a summertime destination for tourists.

    But in South Jersey, New Jersey Transit has just shut down the Atlantic City Line for several months as it works to comply with an end-of-the-year federal deadline to install positive train-control safety equipment. And unlike Newark Liberty airport, which is served by an NJ Transit station, the AC line doesn’t connect to the sprawling Atlantic City airport even though it runs right by it.

    “We need public transportation (and) we need airlines to further enhance what we have to offer,” said Kesselman, whose new Atlantic City campus is designed to provide a year-round economic boost to the still-struggling seaside resort.

    “The rail lines, again, are really important,” added Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May).

    One thing the region does have going for it is a general spirit of cooperation, something that was displayed several years ago as various groups there mobilized to block an effort to establish casino gambling in north Jersey, including in the Meadowlands. A ballot question that was put before voters in 2016 was ultimately rejected by a wide margin.

    On that occasion, several regional business organizations “all worked together with one common goal” to help defeat the referendum, which they believed would have crippled the region’s economy, said Debra DiLorenzo, president and chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey.

    “We continue to work together,” she said.

    Even with its marketing dollars raided to plug budget holes, the state is continuing with an ambitious public-relations campaign that now reaches into places like Ohio and Canada to draw visitors, said Anthony Minick, the director of marketing for the Division of Travel and Tourism.

    If more dollars are needed to support marketing efforts, one suggestion that came out of yesterday’s hearing involved taxing summer rentals, which currently are not subject to any state fees or taxes as hotel rooms are. A new tax signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy will start hitting accommodations booked using online services like Airbnb starting next month. That means only short-term or transient rentals will be left untaxed in New Jersey, giving them a competitive advantage.

    “That leaves hundreds of millions of dollars off the table,” said John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwoods Tourism Authority.

    Click here for the original article.

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