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NJ Senator and Congressman Speak Up for Delaware Water Gap’s Historic Resources

August 13, 2010

The Nelden-Hornbeck farmhouse, listed on the NJ Register of Historic Places and determined eligible for the National Register.

Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Scott Garrett released Wednesday a joint letter to Dennis Reidenbach, Northeast Regional Director for the National Park Service, requesting a halt to planned demolitions in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (DEWA), and increased cooperation with the public toward the preservation of historic resources there. DEWA was listed as one of PNJ’s “10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey” in 2004.

According to an article in the Star-Ledger, planning for the demolition project, originally scheduled to take out 132 structures, began two years ago. The list of planned demolitions has since apparently been reduced to 30, and DEWA’s deputy assistant superintendent Robert Karotko indicates that no historic structures are to be razed. However, Lautenberg and Garrett charge that the NPS has yet to release a clear list of the properties slated for demolition, and failed to properly publicize the public comment period for the project.

Local advocates further assert that while the NPS was at one time completing minimal maintenance on buildings within DEWA, the maintenance was not sufficient to keep the buildings from falling into disrepair. Recently, even minimal maintenance has apparently ceased,  resulting in increased vandalism. Even more alarming, the NPS has apparently terminated guardianship agreements that were allowing some properties to be maintained and stewarded by volunteers, and has even requested that some volunteer activities be halted altogether.

DEWA is a perfect example of missed opportunities for creative historic preservation. Of course funding is limited, and the challenge of restoring and maintaining the thousands of historic properties  that exist within the DEWA boundaries would not be cheap. But instead of funding demolition, why isn’t the NPS proactively encouraging  and expanding opportunities, such as non-profit and private leasing, that would both preserve these properties and bring in much-needed revenue? Locals indicate that volunteer groups were not only donating their time and personal funds, but hosting profit-generating tours and activities at historic DEWA properties, before the NPS requested the halt to volunteer work. And private leasing, if offered via a streamlined, user-friendly process, would also result in a residential presence that would reduce the probability of detrimental activities such as vandalism.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was created from the  condemnation and purchase of 10,000 properties along 40 miles of the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania during the 1960s and 1970s. The properties were acquired in preparation for the construction of several dams which would’ve flooded the DEWA lands, creating the Tocks Island Reservoir.  However, the project was never completed and was eventually de-authorized, leaving the Federal government with significant landholdings and no future plan.

For now, the effects of this renewed interest remain to be seen. Stay tuned…

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