New Jersey may keep state parks open during government shutdowns

In July 2017 New Jersey state parks were closed during the government shutdown.  Island Beach State Park was one of them. (Justin Auciello/for WHYY)

In July 2017 New Jersey state parks were closed during the government shutdown. Island Beach State Park was one of them. (Justin Auciello/for WHYY)

A bill advancing in the New Jersey Senate would require that state parks, recreation areas, and historic sites remain open to the public for seven days if a stalemate over enacting a state budget results in a government shutdown.

Drew Tompkins with the Keep It Green Coalition said those public places should not be held hostage to budget negotiations.

“This legislation provides a safeguard against future circumstances similar to what happened last year during the government shutdown when New Jersey citizens were denied access to state parks and beaches, that their own tax dollars support, during one of the busiest weekends of the year, the 4th of July holiday,” said Tompkins.

Jamie Zaccaria with the New Jersey Sierra Club said that would prevent visitors from being turned away after making holiday plans.

“Our parks and our beaches are our pride,” he said, “They’re some of the most used in the entire country, so we need to prove that. You can’t close Liberty State Park on the day where we celebrate the liberty of our country.”

Seth Hahn with the Communications Workers of America opposes the legislation. He said keeping state parks open could backfire.

“It makes it more likely that a state government shutdown will occur and last a lot longer if it does,” he said.

State Sen. Dick Codey agreed, arguing negative consequences for not enacting a budget on time could be an incentive for reaching an agreement by the June 30 deadline.

“Last year if we hadn’t had the thing with Mr. Christie on the beach, maybe we wouldn’t have passed it for a couple more weeks,” said Codey.

During the state government shutdown, a local newspaper published a photo showing former Gov. Chris Christie and his family enjoying the day on one of the closed state beaches. It didn’t go over well with the public who criticized Christie for being on the beach that was closed to the public.

Similar legislation to keep parks and beaches open was passed by the Assembly last year, but the Senate didn’t vote on it.

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