Cover photo credit: Peter Miller via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
New Jersey and Pennsylvania share one of our nation’s treasures: the Delaware Water Gap. Composed of more than 70,000 acres awash with bountiful forests, flourishing fields and spectacular waterfalls, the Delaware Water Gap offers an immersive experience into the beauty of the Northeastern United States. Currently designated as a “Recreation Area,” this special place is deserving of greater recognition. Congress can grant this designation. giving the Mid-Atlantic its first national park: The Delaware River National Park and Lenape Preserve.
Visit in the spring or summer, and you’ll find a sea of green interspersed with the snaking, blue Delaware River. In the winter, enjoy a landscape of snow-dusted oaks and maples and shimmering, icy waters. With autumn comes an explosion of color; mountain ridges blanketed in every shade of red, orange and yellow rustle in a crisp breeze.
Venture within, and you’ll have the chance to encounter an abundance of wildlife, including black bears, timber rattlesnakes, bald eagles and perhaps even a peregrine falcon. Lush blueberry patches offer up a treat for local wildlife and adventurous hikers alike. Hemlock ravines, rhododendron bushes and prickly pear cacti further contribute to the diverse plant life that flourishes within this natural haven.
“Dingmans Falls” Photo: Arthur T. LaBar via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Designated a “National Recreation Area” by Congress, the Delaware Water Gap provides more than just breathtaking views and impressive wilderness. It offers a wide array of activities for visitors; from its 100 miles-plus of hiking trails (which includes part of the Appalachian Trail) to opportunities for boating, swimming, kayaking, fishing and camping, there truly is something for everyone. One of the cleanest rivers in the country, the Delaware River also provides clean drinking water to millions along the East Coast, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia.
The Delaware Water Gap also has fun educational opportunities, sending visitors back in time to delve into the region’s rich history. The area is home to indigenous archeological sites of the Lenape people, structures from early Dutch settlements, and historic rural villages dating back to the 1700s. Scattered throughout the area, these historic gems only add to the abundance of life and wonder waiting to be explored at the Delaware Water Gap.
If you visited a popular national park this summer, you may have noticed that thousands of other people had the same idea. Our national parks hosted 237 million visitors in 2020. Traffic jams to get into Yellowstone aren’t uncommon, and visitors are turned away from the entry at Arches National Park in Utah when it’s too busy. Simply put, more people want to visit parks than capacity allows.
“Canoeing the Delaware Water Gap” Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior.
People want more nature, and Congress can oblige by designating new national parks. More parks can help spread the visitor load, especially in areas where there isn’t one currently. The Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area is an excellent candidate for designation as a national park and could easily join the ranks of other East Coast parks like the Great Smoky Mountains and Everglades National Park. While it may not consist of towering summits or steaming geysers, the Delaware Water Gap is a scenic wonder that provides refuge for local animal and plant life. As the nation becomes more and more urbanized, sanctuaries such as the Water Gap are not only a welcome reprieve from hectic city life, but they are also essential to maintaining healthy biodiversity that keeps our ecosystems stable. This land has been cherished for thousands of years, and it deserves to be recognized, respected and protected—not only for the sake of the wildlife that depends upon it but also for the sake of our future generations.