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.
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Looking for America's best state park? Then you need to head to Ocean County.
Island Beach State Park is the best state park in the United States, according to a new ranking released by vacation planning website HomeToGo.
The Ocean County park, home to white sandy beaches and the Governor's beach mansion, topped a list of 18 state parks that included destinations from Hawaii to New York.
To make the rankings, HomeToGo created an initial list of the 100 most popular state parks in the U.S., based on the website's own search data. From that group of 100, a shortlist of 18 parks was created by rating the parks with a formula that combined Google ratings, cost of entry and parking, number of activities, number of bird species and average price of nearby accommodations.
That formula awarded Island Beach State Park 42.61 out of 50 possible points.
Though no other New Jersey state parks cracked the final list of 18, Liberty State Park was included in the top 100. The Appalachian Trail, which runs through multiple New Jersey state parks, also made the top 100.
National parks in New Jersey, like Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Gateway National Recreation Area, were not considered.
Island Beach State Park isn't exactly a hidden gem. The park attracted 773,156 visitors in fiscal year 2017, making it the sixth most popular in the New Jersey state park system.
In it's ranking, HomeToGo called Island Beach State Park a "gorgeous state beach" and touted the park's "10 miles of undeveloped paradise."
Visitors to the park can spend their time simply chilling on the beach, or they can spend time more involved activities like kayaking and surf fishing. Birding is also popular at the park, which is recognized by the Audubon Society for its "incredible diversity of birds." Endangered species like the Piping Plover and Least Tern are known to be found at Island Beach State Park.
The New Jersey state parks service announced on Tuesday that Island Beach State Park will remain staffed with lifeguards and open for swimming on weekends through the end of September.
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Playgrounds are a time honored tradition and a beloved part of everyone’s childhood. Research shows that the benefits of play are enormous on childhood development and physical activity levels, not to mention playgrounds are just fun. When I ask my two-year-old if she wants to go to the playground, her face immediately changes to one of pure delight. We all want to bring our kids joy and support their health; however, including my entire family in this activity may not always be an easy thing to do – especially in our neighborhood. The reason? Accessibility and design.
You see, my husband uses a wheelchair, and the closest park is far from accessible. In order for him to be able to join us, we have to drive to another part of town to enjoy an accessible playground. Even with accessible playgrounds, it’s not always a given that families will be able to truly play together and share experiences. Many playgrounds merely provide access, but don’t fully embrace universal design or consider the safety features that are located around the playground. For example, if my daughter can access an area that is not accessible to my husband such as parts of the parking lot, play area, or restroom, then my husband can’t take her there regardless of the accessible playground space provided.
Creating Inclusive Playgrounds
Playcore has created the 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design called Me2 based off of the 7 Principles of Universal Design. The principles include standards like being fair; providing equitable opportunities for play, and being included and allowing access flexibility so children can choose how and where they want to go. When thinking about building a playground, universal design is certainly where you should start… but you can’t just stop there. Hoover, Alabama, located just outside of Birmingham, found that checking the box and addressing each of those 7 principles did not guarantee that they met the mark when it came to providing access and inclusion in a playground setting. Hoover learned that there are other steps that must be taken to ensure true universal design so that all individuals can be physically and socially active through playground use.
In 2015, Hoover Parks and Recreation designed and built Hoover East Playground using the Me2 Principles of Inclusion. They worked with the playground equipment company and architect to make sure that they addressed each of the 7 principles. Once they opened the gates, they quickly found a list of things to avoid and others that had to be changed immediately.
One immediate concern was the placement of the play structure access ramp. The ramped structure exited behind a bay of four swings, creating a safety concern. “On the ribbon cutting day, we watched children play and held our breath. Within a week, the swings were changed from belt swings to toddler swings because of the smaller safety zone required,” stated Dee Nance, former Superintendent of Hoover Parks and Recreation. The department then needed to provide belt swings somewhere else, requiring additional space, construction time, and financial costs.
Going Beyond the Checklist
Despite using an inclusivity checklist, Hoover Parks and Recreation created a play environment that did not provide equal opportunities for all. Luckily, their story doesn’t end here. Hoover recently broke ground on a new development with the goal of creating the largest local universally designed inclusive playground to date. To make sure Hoover addressed every inclusive aspect, the Parks and Recreation department worked with local experts and various disability groups to note what individuals look for in inclusive playgrounds. Including organizations and individuals with a disability from the beginning ensures that the final product will work for everyone.
Set to open in early 2019, Hoover’s new universally designed inclusive playground will boast a large play area that includes an accessible splash pad, playground, walking path, and changing rooms unmatched in this area.
Frank Brocato, Mayor of Hoover said, “This park will become a destination location because of its inclusive amenities. Children and adults alike will be able to play and interact with others regardless of their ability. Located at a large multi-sports complex, this new playground and splash pad are sure to attract thousands because here everyone will be able to come together and play.”
Inclusion Benefits Everyone
Universal design is the way to go when designing outdoor spaces. It allows for welcoming, inclusive, and fun environments where all individuals can participate and enjoy the outdoors. Including people with disability on the planning process is the icing on the cake. The new play space in Hoover will allow my family to play together while building memories for years to come. All communities should seek to do the best they can when providing access and not just what checks the box. Consider going beyond the checklist to ensure a barrier-free and safe place for all community members to enjoy. As the saying goes, “Nothing about us without us.” Be sure to invite everyone, disability organizations, people with disability and/or their caregivers, to the conversations when designing pieces intended for their use.
Spread the word! Share this post with your network using this sample tweet: Go beyond the checklist to ensure that EVERYone has access to play. Learn how practice makes perfect when designing an accessible playground environment, in this Be Active Your Way blog post from @NCHPAD. https://bit.ly/2MQqrWe
CAMDEN, NJ—On the corner of Copewood and Davis streets, hidden behind overgrown bushes and weeds, lies the abandoned Camden Laboratories site. It sits caddy-corner to one of the city’s high schools, Brimm Medical Arts Academy, and is near the baseball fields, football fields and playgrounds of Whitman Park.
Abandoned since 2008, the former medical bio-tech facility has also been the largest illegal dumping site in the state.
However, on Wednesday, federal, state and local officials announced plans to transform the abandoned and contaminated complex into an open, recreational space that will serve as an expansion of Whitman Park.
The project is being spearheaded by the Camden Collaborative Initiative [CCI], a partnership between more than 70 governmental, non-profit, private and community-based agencies working to improve the environment and the quality of life for the city’s residents, and Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash.
“One day they are going to write a book about how to revitalize a struggling urban community, and that book is going to be written about the great City of Camden,” Nash said.
In 2016, the CCI removed over 500 tons of debris from the site. Now, with over $1 million in total grant money from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the six decrepit buildings on the site will be demolished, and an estimated 1,000 tons of soil contaminated with mercury will be removed.
In April, the city received a total of $400,000 in federal funding through two United States Environmental Protection Agency brownfields grants for the cleanup of hazardous waste at two sites within the city — one being the Camden Labs site. The EPA has also provided over $500,000 in assessment and cleanup grants for the almost four-acre site, and $200,000 for the Camden Redevelopment Agency to work with the community on developing an area-wide plan and strategy.
“Camden has been overburdened for too many years by environmental and public health hazards, from pollution and contamination that has threatened the city’s air, water and land,” Catherine McCabe, acting commissioner for the NJDEP, said. “We all recognize that cleaner environments promote stronger communities and that’s what we’re here for.”
Officials expect the transformation to be one of the many examples to come of one of the CCI’s main goals — to put and end to illegal dumping in the city. Cooper’s Ferry Partnership President and CEO Kris Kolluri called illegal dumping one of the single biggest social justice issues in Camden.
“Nothing is more harmful to a person’s health, to a person’s environment and to the general image than illegal dumping,” Kolluri said.
Mayor Frank Moran said that in addition to transforming blighted properties like the Camden Laboratories site, the city is also planning on raising the fines for illegal dumping and posting signage at main entry points into the city’s neighborhoods warning illegal dumpers of the consequences. The end goal, he said, is to redevelop the land where the illegal dumping takes place.
“What good of it is for us to remediate this property and leave it an open lot where it just becomes inviting,” Moran said. “We’re going to continue working on remediating and going after grants because we don’t the resources or the bonding capacity to go after real dollars, and then subsequently we’re going to sell the properties for redevelopment.
The city is also one of 14 finalists nationwide for the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge 2018. If selected, the city receive up to $1 million in funding to convert vacant lots in Camden from illegal dumping sites into public art spaces.
The proposed project is a collaborative effort between the City of Camden, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership [CFP] and Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts to turn vacant lots along the northern side of PATCO transit line — often used for illegal dumping — into community gathering sites centered around public art.
Kolluri said that depending on if the project is funded and the amount that is awarded, five to seven lots of different shapes and sizes could be transformed from blighted, empty lots into community gathering spaces.
The CCI has an online reporting tool, Camden Reports, for residents to anonymously report incidents of illegal dumping, and also has an illegal dumping task force.
Once the demolition and site cleanup is complete, Whitman Park will be expanded to 10 acres and have facilities for football, baseball, basketball and more.
“The end chapter of that book of revitalization is the story of the children of this community playing on this lot. We know that the end of the book will be a happy ending, and we are greatly looking forward to that,” Nash said.
The CCI is led by the City of Camden, NJDEP, USEPA, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, Camden County Municipal Utility Authority and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. It is comprised of seven working groups that focus on air quality, environmental justice, brownfields, waste and recycling, health and wellness, stormwater management and environmental education.
In less than a decade the nation will celebrate the 250th anniversary of its founding — the U.S. Semiquincentennial — and some state lawmakers and historic-preservation advocates want to make sure New Jersey will be able to take full advantage of its rich colonial history.
A bill that lawmakers sent to Gov. Phil Murphy several weeks ago seeks to establish an American Revolution anniversary program in New Jersey in the run up to 2026, with a $500,000 annual appropriation as part of the bill.
Meanwhile, lawmakers held a lengthy discussion during a recent legislative hearing in Trenton that focused on other ways the 250th anniversary could generate recognition for New Jersey’s role in the nation’s founding, as well as some much-needed economic activity. The envisioned effort would include putting up more signs to highlight historic sites and investing more in the upkeep of those sites to make sure they are prepared for more visitors.
The hearing was held inside the Old Barracks, a building located around the corner from the State House that dates to 1758. Used to house soldiers during the American Revolution, the barracks is one of a number of sites across the state that could be used to recognize — and cash in on — the state’s revolutionary heritage.
“We are steeped in history here in the capital, as well as in New Jersey,” said Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer). “We should capitalize on it because it has so many economic benefits, as well as historical benefits.”
Historians have determined that there were more American Revolutionary battles fought in New Jersey than in any other U.S. state. Gen. George Washington — who would go on to become the first U.S. president — spent much of his time during the American Revolution lodged at different locations in New Jersey.
Yet Dr. Maxine Lurie, chair of the New Jersey Historical Commission and professor emerita at Seton Hall, suggested much of New Jersey’s colonial heritage is not well known as the state hasn’t tried to spread the word as aggressively as its neighbors. For example, she said both Pennsylvania and New York have signs dotting their landscapes that highlight the roles they played in the American Revolution. New Jersey could do the same with its own signage, Lurie said.
“State history is important because, among other reasons, it helps give residents, young and old, born here and immigrants, a sense of place and belonging,” she said during the hearing. “Now is the time, as the Legislature has wisely recognized, to start planning for the 250th anniversary,” she said.
Patrick Murray, who serves on the board of the nonprofit Crossroads of the American Revolution Association said that, in addition to having so many historic sites, New Jersey had been the scene of many events that could be recognized over a number of years before and after 2026. By contrast, places like Massachusetts have only a few major events to recognize.
“You come to New Jersey, we have years more of incredible commemorative events to talk about,” Murray said. “But what that means is that we need to create a heritage-tourism infrastructure that’s equal to bringing folks here and keeping them here — and that will benefit local communities for generations to come.”
“Get them across the river and keep them here,” said Murray, who also serves as the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Dorothy Guzzo, executive director of the New Jersey Historic Trust, reiterated the idea that the state’s colonial heritage can be a source of economic development. She pointed to a recent economic-impact study that estimated the state’s heritage tourism attracted 11 million visitors and generated $335 million in state and local tax revenue.
“That’s without much state investment, little or no marketing, and it was measured as we were coming out of a recession,” Guzzo said.
While her group is funded with $3 million in revenue that’s generated annually by the state corporate-business tax, Guzzo suggested the state should be spending up to $10 million annually to properly keep up all its historic sites. “We know from our tourism partners that there is a huge return on investment from marketing and promotion, and we know that our capital grants leverage just as much, if not more, in private philanthropy,” Guzzo said. “In short, an investment in New Jersey’s history is a good business opportunity.”
In addition to providing an annual appropriation to support a state-based semiquincentennial effort, the bill awaiting action from the governor would also allow the New Jersey Historical Commission to enter into public-private partnerships with outside organizations.
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, who was among those to testify during the Old Barracks hearing, said the upcoming 250th anniversary could also give a boost to the ongoing push to revitalize his city after years of economic struggle.
The state could provide tax credits to homeowners who restore the exteriors of their colonial-era homes, said Gusciora, who is a former lawmaker. He also envisioned cooperating with the state to create a “historic pathway” along the Assunpink Creek, which was the scene of the decisive Second Battle of Trenton in 1777.
“We should be promoting our historic battlefields and the historic places in this state, and it will go a long way to attracting visitors from outside the state for many years to come,” Gusciora said.
“New Jersey should not be taking a backseat to any state when it comes to history,” added Turner.
Governor Phil Murphy has signed legislation sponsored by Senator Kip Bateman appropriating $9.703 million from constitutionally-dedicated corporate business tax (CBT) revenue to the NJ DEP for State capital and park development, preservation, conservation, and recreation projects.
"New Jersey is blessed with some of the most beautiful parks in the country, but we cannot keep them that way without funding regular maintenance, let alone build new ones," Senator Bateman (R-16) said. "Using constitutionally dedicated CBT revenue is a voter-approved, fiscally responsible way to expand these preservation projects in every part of our state."
The appropriation authorized by A4211 / S2729 is funded by the "Preserve New Jersey Act," which was made possible by the 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment that created a longterm funding source for open space preservation.
In June of 2016 Governor Christie signed the "Preserve New Jersey Act" which implemented, for Fiscal Years 2017-2019, constitutionally dedicated CBT revenues for open space, farmland, and historic preservation. Voters overwhelmingly approved dedicating CBT revenues for open space, historic and farmland preservation by voting yes on a public question that appeared on the ballot in November of 2014.
The 2016 "Preserve New Jersey Act" and the 2014 constitutional amendment were also sponsored by Senator Bateman, who has fought to secure funding for open space, park and farmland, and historic preservation in every subsequent state budget.
The projects funded by Senator Bateman's S2729 include bridge repairs, restoration of historical structures, natural habitat improvements, and improving access to certain boating and fishing recreational centers.
"As a lifelong supporter of our State, county, and local parks and a staunch advocate for environmental protection, I will always fight to preserve the green acres, landmarks and natural habitats that make New Jersey the Garden State," Senator Bateman added. "We must safeguard a cleaner, greener future for our children and grandchildren. Funding parkland preservation and upkeep is critical to achieving that goal."
Spotted lanternfly was found on Friday August 10 on a commercial Hunterdon County fruit and vegetable farm. The insect was found in a Tree of Heaven being used as a trap tree with a plastic catch basin placed around the base of the tree, and the first 5-6 feet of the trunk sprayed with dinotefuran to kill any insects that land on the tree. The dead insects were supposed to fall into the catch basin. They did not. The find was made by looking up into the foliage and seeing the adult stage. To our knowledge this is the first sighting of this insect on a commercial farm in NJ. Growers should be particularly aware of any possible activity in trees of heaven that border cultivated plantings. These trees are common in poor and disturbed soil. This capture was made from trees on a hillside that line the border of a powerline which runs through the farm. With the amount of spraying that normally goes on in tree fruit, it is not likely that this insect will cause a major problem at this time of the season. However, if these insects are found on trees in close proximity to grapes it can be more problematic. See the July 18 Plant and Pest for an article by Anne Nielsen here https://plant-pest-advisory.rutgers.edu/?s=spotted+lanternfly
When spotted lanternflies descended on Calvin Beekman’s property last year in Berks County, Pennsylvania, he says they came by the thousands.
“It looked like a locust plague, just overtaking you” said Beekman, who owns about 80 acres of apple trees and 42 acres of wine grapes on land his family has farmed for four generations.
Insecticides killed the pests. But, as they died, more arrived from the surrounding woodlands. At one point, he said he counted 320 dead lanternflies under one grape plant, killed by a single round of spraying, while on the plant another 40 or 50 were still feeding.
Beekman’s apple orchard was largely spared from the destruction the insects caused. His grapes were not. In a normal year, he said his vineyard yields about 140 tons of grapes, which are used to make wines like cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.
Last year, he harvested 62 tons, losing an estimated $100,000. This year he expects just 4 tons at best.
In addition to sucking the life out of the grapes, the lanternflies consumed nutrients their vines depend on, weakening some to the point where Beekman said they did not survive last winter. Other plants that weathered the cold months didn’t grow properly, some with stunted shoots.
Beekman said he’s now removing dead blocks of grape vines on his vineyard, but holding off on replanting until he has a better understanding of what will happen next with the lanternfly. It takes about $20,000 per acre and four years of time to get wine grape plants into production, he said.
“My vineyard was a show place,” Beekman said. “If you would see it now, it’s a disaster.”
An invasive pest
Beekman’s property is near the epicenter of a spotted lanternfly outbreak that has bedeviled parts of southeastern Pennsylvania in recent years. In addition to the risks to grapes, the insect is considered to be a threat to fruit trees, hops and hardwood timber.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put forward $17.5 million to help combat the lanternfly in Pennsylvania. This money was in addition to state funds of $3 million in the most recent budget. In prior years, government spending to fight the pest in Pennsylvania was in the ballpark of $1.2 million.
“The funding was not keeping up with the insect,” said Fred Strathmeyer, deputy secretary for consumer protection with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, when asked why the significant infusion of federal money became necessary.
The spotted lanternfly is native to Asian countries such as China, India, and Vietnam.
Ruth Welliver, director of the state agriculture department’s plant industry bureau, said the state is pretty sure that the lanternfly gained access to the U.S. by attaching itself to products imported from Asia, slipping past inspectors who weren’t yet on the lookout for it.
“This insect wasn’t really on anyone’s radar,” she said.
There are now 13 Pennsylvania counties, including the one that encompasses Philadelphia, inside a quarantine zone, where the bug is known to be present.
Since appearing in Pennsylvania, lanternflies have turned up in pockets of other states, including Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. But they have not established thriving populations in those places. A single dead individual lanternfly recently appeared in New York.
Julie Urban, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and a leading lanternfly researcher, pointed out that the spotted lanternfly is different from other destructive pests, like the emerald ash borer, because it is less particular about the types of plants it feeds on, raising the possibility that it could hurt a wide range of species.
“That’s why this is so scary,” she said.
Urban and others are in the process now of trying to assemble the first estimates of what level of damage the lanternfly has caused in Pennsylvania. There are currently other anecdotal reports, similar to what Beekman described, of harm to grapes and vines not overwintering. It’s also possible the insect can kill hops plants in just one year, Urban said.
Adult spotted lanternflies are about 1 inch long and a half-inch wide. The insects look different as they age. Young ones are mostly black or red with white spots. Adults take on a light brownish coloring, with black spots, and red that is exposed on their wings when they fly.
The lanternfly doesn’t bite people, or carry human diseases. They damage plants and trees by sucking sap from stems and leaves. This can harm photosynthesis, weaken the plant and cause it to ooze or weep, according to a USDA “pest alert” describing the bug.
As they digest their food, spotted lanternflies themselves excrete fluid called “honeydew," which can coat surfaces and cause mold growth, including on fruit. It also attracts other insects.
Lanternflies are not very good fliers. But they are crafty hitchhikers and females can lay their eggs inconspicuously in places like the underside of a railcar, or on a shipping pallet.
“The egg masses look like a smudge of mud, it’s almost impossible to see them,” Welliver said.
The economic stakes could become high in Pennsylvania if hardwood forests there are threatened by the bug. Brian Rider, executive director of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association, noted that the state is the largest producer of hardwood lumber in the country.
“It’s in excess of a $17 billion a year business in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Lanternflies are known to feed on oak and walnut. The state agriculture department has received reports of “yellowing and weakening” of some trees, particularly walnut. But much of the logging in Pennsylvania is in northern and northwestern parts of the state, away from the current infestations.
Beyond threatening agriculture and adding costs for businesses, the insects are proving to be a quality of life issue, said Strathmeyer. In infested areas there can be hundreds of thousands. “You’re killing hundreds,” he said. “But hundreds keep coming.”
Urban described conditions in Redding where lanternflies were not swarming, but could be found on park banisters, ledges and covering tree branches. She said if you were to stand under an infested tree, where the bugs are dripping honeydew, “it’s like you’re being rained on.”
Spotted lanternflies have an especially strong appetite for a fast-growing tree known as “tree-of-heaven,” or Ailanthus altissima, which is native to a region that extends from China to Australia, but is invasive in the U.S. The insects’ attraction to the tree offers options for killing them that have become central to Pennsylvania’s program to control the pest.
Strathmeyer describes the strategy as “hack-and-squirt.”
Ailanthus trees are cut down with the goal of reaching a targeted amount per acre. Those left standing are loaded up with insecticide. “You turn them into the bait,” Welliver said. When lanternflies come to feed on the bait trees they are poisoned.
One of the reasons this program works, Welliver explained, is that Ailanthus is a “junk tree,” and that “nobody uses it for anything, including other insects and wildlife.”
She said this approach is showing results. “As we expand the amount of area, the region, where we are doing that kind of control,” Welliver added, “we’re very, very hopeful that we will crash the population. And, in the meantime, we’re doing research to say, ‘well, will that take care of it completely, or do we need to add some other tools?'”
Urban said the fact that the insect has stayed in a relatively confined area since it first appeared shows it is possible to contain, but its ability as a hitchhiker is dangerous. With the added federal support in place, she sees this year as a pivotal point in the battle against the bug.
The hack-and-squirt method, she said, can be efficient and effective. But it has limits.
Homeowners and farmers are looking for cost effective ways to protect crops, trees, and plants. Researchers are currently trying to determine the safest ways for them to do this, while limiting the use of poisonous substances. “You can’t nuke everything,” Urban said.
Beekman recognizes that state authorities are working to combat the spotted lanternfly, “doing what they can,” and that there’s been progress on some fronts. He was complimentary of the Penn State experts who he says have set-up a makeshift research lab in his office.
But he expressed doubts about whether the insect can ultimately be killed off, and frustrations over some of the ways the state has handled the response. When the bugs first appeared in 2014 and 2015, he said they were in an area he estimated to be about a half-mile circle.
Because the space was confined, he and other fruit growers recommended to “just spray it and take care of it.” But the state agriculture department, Beekman said, declined to back this plan.
When asked about this, Shannon Powers, a department spokesperson, said in an email response that, “we already know that blanketing an area with insecticide would endanger badly needed pollinators, as well as people, animals, other commodities, and the area ecosystem.”
Beyond the origins of the state response, Beekman feels the state agriculture department hasn’t done enough to communicate with him about what’s happened on his farm. He also voiced complaints about the slow pace of some local-level efforts to cull Ailanthus trees, and he’s skeptical of measures to prevent the insects from hitching rides.
“There’s trains that run right through here,” he said, “probably 20, 30 trains a day, traveling with freight.” Beekman added: “You and I both know that they’re not checking that train.”
Powers said that the state is taking a “team approach” to dealing with the lanternfly and that Penn State is one of the key team members. “Our strategy of assigning different roles to each team member, rather than duplicating efforts, may mean an orchard owner may work with one member of the team rather than the whole team,” she added.
She also acknowledged that it’s a “daunting task” to get travelers and transport companies to cooperate with best practices for preventing the spread of the insect. “But we are using every method at our disposal to do so,” she said, noting that businesses have been “extremely responsive” to the quarantine restrictions.
Powers said social media, particularly Facebook, has been especially effective spreading the word about the spotted lanternfly and the threats it poses. Messaging around the risks to hops and, in turn, craft beer have been especially resonant, she said.
There’s also a “Look Before You Leave” campaign that encourages people to check their clothing and vehicles when traveling out of the quarantine area. And there’s a required state training and permittingprogram in place for certain businesses, like trucking firms.
Ed Weaver says this year is the first he’s seen large numbers of spotted lanternflies on his farm, Weaver’s Orchard, which is also located in Berks County. The farm was started by his grandparents in the 1930s. Weaver grows apples, as well as other fruits like peaches and berries.
He said he got rid of many of the trees of heaven that were on his land, but left some on the perimeter, along the edge of the surrounding woods, which he doctors with pesticide. All of this and other work to control the insects takes time, money and equipment, he noted.
“The thing that I am seeing is that, now that they’ve become adults, they are starting to roam around more, looking for more food,” Weaver said.
While they won’t attack apples themselves, they will go after other parts of the trees and their sticky excrement can drip all over the fruit. “That’s a prime environment for disease,” Weaver explained, describing how the fruit can become coated in mold that turns black.
Although his orchard is not certified as organic, Weaver said he tries to avoid synthetic pesticides as much as possible. But with lanternflies, he said he has no other choice, for now at least, to ward them off.
He’s worried about younger trees and how their development will be affected if the insects feed on them.
And he’s worried about his customers. Weaver’s Orchard does a sizable amount of direct-to-consumer sales. People go there to buy produce, pick their own fruit and for events.
Weaver says he’s heard stories about lanternflies getting so bad is “that it’s just miserable being outside.”
“Will the numbers be that high that people will not have an enjoyable experience here?” he said. “There’s a lot of unknown.”
Last week, Timothy Newcamp, state plant health director in Pennsylvania for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said at a press conference that the agency has this year opened four field offices in the state, which are working on lanternfly response.
When they’re fully staffed, the agency will have 96 employees available to work on the efforts.
“Control teams” and surveillance staff from USDA are concentrating on an 18-mile buffer zone that surrounds the quarantine area. Since April, Newcamp said teams had treated 15 properties, with over 1,900 acres as part of control efforts, relying on the hack-and-squirt method.
Meanwhile, he said, scientists are studying the most effective methods to kill the insect, including pesticides and also “biocontrol” methods—an approach where other living things are used against an invasive species.
Welliver, with the state agriculture department, said that people are on the lookout for biocontrol options like “parasitoid” wasps that have proven effective at destroying invasive gypsy moths, or possibly a fungi or bacteria that could safely achieve similar lethal results.
“Typically science will take a couple of years to get to a place where they have what you really need in these situations,” said Strathmeyer, also with the state agriculture agency. But he added: “It’s important for the public to understand that this is a winnable battle.”
“All playgrounds today are ADA-compliant which means that a child in a wheelchair, for instance, can wheel up to it and look at it. That they have access. But, they can’t play on it. Jake couldn’t play on any playground and he wanted to do his physical therapy everyday on a playground,” said Jim Cummings, a board member at Build Jake’s Place.
Jim and Lynn Cummings were the grandparents of Jacob Cummings-Nasto. He was born with a heart ailment that took his life at two and a half years. His mother conceived of Jake’s Place and his family worked tirelessly to fundraise, partner and make the dream a reality.
“There’s nothing to replace a loss of a child. There’s not anything that replaces the loss of anyone you love, right? But, when you see all these happy, smiling children, it’s very life-giving to us. And every one of these kids represents our grandson, so it’s a wonderful tribute to his memory,” said Lynn.
“We hear him laughing here all the time. We can hear him laughing. He would have loved this place,” Jim said. “We’ve actually seen kids in wheelchairs, they have such strong upper body strength, that they pull themselves up onto this and pull themselves onto the rock.”
The Cummings gave NJTV News a tour, show-and-tell style, of Jake’s Place with a ramp for children and adults on crutches or in wheelchairs. Long and winding, it leads to several fun stops.
Lynn helps playmates on the Sway Fun. It simulates a boat on the water.
“An all-inclusive playground is not just about the play part of it. It’s really about all of the movements that help the brain to develop. It helps the motor skills to develop,” Lynn said.
Other features include wheelchair-height fun boards with a xylophone and kaleidoscope on one side, the alphabet on the opposite, and a buddy station where a wheelchair can fit in the middle for play.
Arthur Aston, the executive director of the nonprofit Build Jake’s Place, was born with spina bifida.
“To see something like this, an accessible playground where all children can play together, is just amazing. It’s something I never thought that I would see in my lifetime,” said Aston.
Jake’s Place inspired other advocates to rebuild a park with inclusive access in Barrington this month. This summer, the Build Jake’s Place nonprofit is building on its success, adding another inclusive playground in Delran in Burlington County. The Cummings and advocates say all 21 counties should have at least one and they lobbied and educated lawmakers who agreed
The Jake’s Law bill sailed through the Assembly and Senate with no opposition. It would require state agencies to set guidelines and standards that exceed those of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
If signed into law, counties will be able to apply for and dip in to those same Green Acres funds that they already do for parks and recreation projects to build their own versions of Jake’s Place.
“This is something that we should be doing as a state. And I am very pleased to know that I have colleagues who also agree with this,” said Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera.
Jake’s Place costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to build, but parents in the park say it’s worth every penny.
“Kids love it and it’s exciting. We love because it’s all fenced in and everyone can play,” said Cherry Hill resident Vanessa Dickinson.
“The parents are really involved, the guardians who are here watching after kids. So, I found myself swinging somebody else,” said Dina Christophe from Cherry Hill.
“We’re here quite often. One young man was in the Sway Fun. I walked up to him and his aide was crying and I said ‘Is there something wrong?’ and, ‘Can I help you?’ And she said, ‘I’ve been his aide for three years and I’ve never seen him laugh,’” Jim recounted.
The Cummings say those laughs sometimes come by the school busloads and from folks out of state. Some think they even have to pay. There’s no admission fee, just lots of fun and learning for all kids.
“And I think having a law, Jake’s Law, helps us to be able to spread that kind of an educational message of how important this is. Not because you didn’t necessarily care, but because you just didn’t know,” Lynn said.
A pair of drownings this summer — an 87-year-old man in Fair Lawn and a 7-year-old boy in Montclair — has underscored the necessity of safe swimming.
About one in five people who die from drowning in the United States are age 14 or younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries, CDC figures show.
"We really have learned over the years how close supervision is needed," said Dr. Peter Wernicki, who chairs the aquatics committee of the American Red Cross' Scientific Advisory Council, which develops data-based swim safety recommendations. "If you have a young swimmer or learning swimmer, we recommend they be in arm’s reach."
There were 10 drownings in New Jersey last year, most of which were due to ocean rip currents.
"Drownings happen quickly, quietly, silently and in the best of families," said Judith Josephs, who is the education chairwoman for the aquatics section of the New Jersey Parks and Recreation Association.
Brian McLaughlin, the head coach for the men's and women's swimming teams at Montclair State University and the school's assistant director of athletics, encourages parents to start with swim lessons as early as 2 years old.
As families become busy with specialized sports, McLaughlin said, they sometimes don't realize that learning basic swimming skills is more important than learning the average sport, because it is a safety issue.
"There are so many swim programs that are available to families in this area," McLaughlin said. "It's important for parents to carve out the time, at least for the developmental years of their children, to take swim lessons because once a person becomes comfortable in the water, that usually will not go away."
Photos: Teaching swim safety at Paterson B&G Club
This week in Paterson, aquatic skills were taught as part of a four-day program sponsored by the Connecticut-based nonprofit ZAC Foundation, a national group that brings water safety lessons to children ages 5 to 9 in urban environments, such as Paterson and Passaic.
“Studies show that children who do not have access to water are so much more likely to drown,” said Wendy McGuire, the deputy executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic, which is hosting the foundation's lessons in North Jersey. "But once they have that skill they will pass that on to future generations.”
Tips from the American Red Cross on preventing drowning. (Photo: Courtesy of the American Red Cross)
This year, Josephs said, her foremost concern is preventing drownings in residential and hotel pools, where there is no state requirement for a lifeguard to be present.
"The New Jersey bathing code is tough on public pools, but it has no bearing on backyard pools," Josephs said. "It has to meet the building code, but once they're inspected nobody goes back to check them."
And Wernicki, of the Red Cross, said that when it comes to flotation devices, it is best to stick with Coast Guard approved life vests.
"Inner tubes, floaty things and rafts are probably more dangerous than not having them because kids use them and get into the deep water, or out into the ocean, and now they’re over their heads," he said.
The American Red Cross offers the following swimming safety tips:
Get off the phone
In Millburn, Bob Hogan, director of the township’s Recreation Department, which runs a municipal pool at Gero Park, has seen more parents gabbing on the phone instead of attending to their children.
"I know there is WiFi and a lot of computer use," Hogan said. "But when you have to watch your kids, you have to adjust how much you use the phone."
Parents with multiple children, he said, should prioritize staying with their children who are the least skilled swimmers.
Lifeguards aren't enough
In Verona, where a lifeguard saved a 12-year-old from nearly drowning in the town’s pool last year, Jim Cunningham, director of Community Services, also is asking parents to help the lifeguards.
“Whether it’s at a pool, ocean lake, wherever you are, there is a [misunderstanding] that when the lifeguards are there, you don’t need to keep your eyes out,” said Cunningham, who noted up to 1,000 people visit Verona's town pool on a busy day.
In the majority of near-drownings, including last year’s in Verona, spectators spotted victims and alerted a lifeguard, Cunningham said, citing figures provided by the municipality’s insurance provider.
New Jersey Health Department figures released in May for the years 2006 through 2016 show 630 drowning deaths statewide. They are the most recent statewide figures available from the Health Department, a spokeswoman said.
There is one issue parents do not have to worry about: so-called "dry drownings," Wernicki said.
"If your child has some respiratory problems in the water, if they actually just come back to normal and they’re fine and they’re happy and they’re not coughing, wheezing, short of breath or loopy, then they’re going to be fine," Wernicki said.
If the child is having respiratory issues, common sense should prevail, he said.
"If they’re not getting better, you take them to the emergency room and they’ll be fine," Wernicki said. "Everybody needs to calm down."
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