BUSHKILL, Pa. - The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area just got a little bit bigger.
On May 6, the boundary of the 67,000-acre national park was adjusted to include an additional 287.99 acres in Sussex County, N.J., and Pike and Monroe counties in Pennsylvania.
The new parcels are largely forested and undeveloped, either within or adjacent to the former park boundary, and will require little active maintenance, according to a park spokesperson.
"The visitors and local residents who love this place and all of the activities that they enjoy here will soon own a little more than they did before," said John J. Donahue, the park's superintendent, in a news release Tuesday.
The additional properties are intended to help mitigate effects of the controversial Susquehanna-Roseland electric transmission line upgrade and expansion, which crosses about 4.3 miles of the park, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
As compensation for "unavoidable impacts to park resources and visitors," the National Park Service received a $66 million mitigation package from electric utilities PPL and PSE&G.
That package includes:
* $10 million for impacts to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and trail users;
* $20.5 million for land acquisition and stewardship projects for Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area;
* $12 million for wetland restoration and mitigation projects;
* $13 million for cultural resource and historic preservation projects;
* $7 million for administrative costs and post-construction monitoring over the next several years.
Also included is a 15.83-acre excess right-of-way easement valued at $200,000 that will be transferred to the park from the utility companies.
The mitigation funds are being administered by The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization that works with federal, state, local, and private partners to protect America's most important landscapes and waterways for future generations.
The remaining mitigation money will go to The Conservation Fund to cover administrative costs associated with managing the various projects and transactions.
The Conservation Fund has purchased three properties and holds an option on a fourth and will convey them all without cost to the National Park Service after environmental site assessments are completed.
The parcels include:
* 68.03 acres in Sandyston Township, N.J.;
* 41.56 acres in Dingman Township, Pa.;
* 33.07 acres and 145.33 acres in two adjacent parcels in Middle Smithfield Township, PA.
An additional 1/3-acre parcel along the Delaware River in Sussex County, N.J. has already been purchased by the foundation and ownership has been transferred to the National Park Service.
"The purchase of these lands by The Conservation Fund from willing and interested sellers without the use of any taxpayer dollars, and their subsequent transfer to the NPS, will ensure that they remain in the public trust for future generations to learn from and enjoy, and provide both ecological and economic benefits to all of us," said Donahue.
He added protection of the additional land by the park service maintains the rural character and heritage of northeast Pennsylvania and northwest New Jersey that so many visitors and residents enjoy.
"People have been attracted to our outstanding scenery, fresh air, and access to the great outdoors for over 150 years and that is why our region remains a prime destination for the many tourists who fuel our local economy," said Donahue.
"It is critical that we preserve our undeveloped spaces so that we can capture the economic benefits of living and working in such a spectacular location.
"There is a need and a place for wise new development in our region, and we must all preserve the very reason that people chose to live here and visit."
In 2012, 4.9 million visits to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area resulted in about $156.4 million being spent at businesses located in counties and communities within a 60-mile radius of the park and supported more than 2,300 jobs.
"In addition to the economic benefits of preserving our natural spaces, the public will have access to these places in perpetuity," Donahue added.
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