New Jersey’s National Parks Advocates Urge NPS to Support “Friends” Groups
after decades of neglect and indifference from the National Park Service (NPS), may soon finally see renewed attention and opportunity.
“Friends” groups of national parks throughout the country are currently pushing for improved stewardship in the form of legislation that would encourage and synthesize the participation of “friends” groups in national park programming and stewardship. The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Fort Hancock, and Ellis Island have all benefited from the attention of dedicated “friends” groups in the past. However, a lack of overarching system-wide standards for the agreements between these groups and the NPS has frustrated volunteer efforts. Red tape, inconsistency, and delays in decision-making have added to the problem. In New Jersey, there have been reports of unexplained agreement terminations that have resulted in unclear futures for historic properties in which volunteers have already invested significant time and funds.
Various “friends” groups testified last month before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands to frustration and confusion in working with the NPS. “Friends” groups are more concentrated and operate with more flexibility than the NPS staff, and therefore often play a vital role in everything from advocacy and fundraising, to programming and stewardship, for NPS-owned properties. Particularly in the case of historic resources, where NPS finances and time may be in short supply, local “friends” groups often have the
resources and volunteer experience necessary to take on a property that may otherwise have fallen through the cracks. “Friends” groups are doing jobs that the NPS should be doing, but does not have the capacity to handle.
In response to last month’s hearings, NPS Deputy Director Dan Wenk assured the committee that a template for agreements that are 80% standard and 20% negotiable according to specific organizations and situations is currently being developed.