The National Park Service has rejected charging an entrance fee to simply set foot inside its Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River.

The announcement came Tuesday as the federal agency released its new Visitor Use Management (VUM) Plan for the park, capping a five-year planning effort that began in September 2015.

Public comments on the proposed entrance fee raised a host of concerns, including effects on traffic flow, creating a financial burden on local residents and businesses, and calls for some groups to be singled out for discounts.

Instead of a parkwide fee, the park service says it will continue with its current expanded amenity fee structure and consider amenity fees for additional park sites in the future.

“We thank the public for sharing their feedback with us and for their continued involvement throughout the planning process,” Delaware Water Gap park Superintendent Sula Jacobs said in a statement. “The VUM Plan was revised with our visitors and stakeholders and not just for them. We asked and we listened.”

The park service says the revised plan provides a guide for the protection of the significant natural and cultural resources of park, while also increasing access to high-quality recreational experiences for the public.

Some of the plan’s strategies are already being piloted in the park, including the use of a mobile or pop-up visitor center that brings park staff out of the visitor centers and into the park where they can reach more people; the closure of unofficial visitor-created trails at Raymondskill Falls to limit crowd sizes and protect park resources; and establishing new traffic patterns to increase parking capacity at Kittatinny Point on busy weekends. The park has also begun assessing the feasibility of a permit program for hunters with disabilities, including access to administrative roads and accessible hunting blinds.

Sierra Club Pennsylvania praised the plan.

“We’re heartened to see a plan from the Park Service that responds to community needs,” the chapter’s director, Tom Torres, said in a statement. “This plan not only helps ensure that the park will be open to everyone, not just those that can afford it, but that visitors will be able to enjoy a more inclusive range of activities.

“Everyone should be able to access the benefits of spending time in nature, whether on a family picnic or a hike, and we’re committed to continuing to work with the Park Service to make the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area truly a place for all.”

Implementation of individual plan components will be based on the availability of funds, and some will require additional public review and input, the National Park Service says. Park staff will monitor changes and impacts to park resources and visitor experiences at locations throughout the recreation area using the indicators, thresholds, and site capacities identified in the VUM Plan.

Additional highlights of the VUM Plan include the following, according to a news release from the park service:

Trails: Improvements to the park’s trails will link trail networks, enhance accessibility, and diversify trail experiences and will be sustainably designed to protect park resources. Partnership and cost-sharing opportunities will be explored related to equestrian and biking trails.

Picnicking: Expanded picnicking opportunities will be implemented in a variety of locations throughout the park to better meet demand, including designated areas that can accommodate large groups. Hidden Lake is one area that may be evaluated for use as a group picnic area; other expansions or improvements could take place at park beaches.

Improved Accessibility: Several projects in the VUM Plan are intended to increase and improve accessibility to facilities and programs throughout the park. Projects include improvements to the Loch Lomond and Hidden Lake fishing piers and trails; canoe/kayak access points with launch aids; improved online and virtual services; audio descriptions on waysides at Childs Park and Dingmans Falls; ramp access to key public buildings; trail improvements; and a permit system for hunting access.

River Camping: The NPS will move forward with charging a $16 per site, per night fee and establishing a reservation system for use of sites for river camping, one of the more unique experiences offered at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and on the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River. Implementation will be phased in over time, beginning in 2021. The park will continue to maintain existing river campsites; pilot alternative waste management solutions at two river campsites; and restore up to 20 river campsites in clustered groupings using creative solutions for human waste management, improved accessibility for people with disabilities, and ease of access for maintenance. Education about “Leave No Trace” principles and water safety will be promoted to increase resource protection and human health and safety practices in the outdoors.

N.J. River Access: NPS will seek funding for a study to determine the feasibility of developing a new river access on the New Jersey side of the park, or the expansion of existing sites. The study will identify whether suitable locations are present and identify potential locations for further investigation. The initiation of this study will be contingent on the availability of funding.

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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at [email protected].

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