Tourism in the Delaware Water Gap has given communities in Pa. and NJ will add $235 million in 2021, according to the study

Millions of dollars flowed through the Delaware Water Gap in 2021.

A report released this fall by the National Parks Conservation Association examining the financial impact of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area found that the park and its 4.3 million visitors generated $235 million in revenue for county businesses Northampton, Monroe and Pike in Pennsylvania; and Warren and Sussex counties in New Jersey.

The NPCA, which works independently in support of the National Park Service, said communities should in turn protect the parkland from industrial encroachment, in part by zoning against warehouses and other projects opposed to outdoor tourism.

“Together, we must protect these communities, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and protected areas along the Delaware River from any disparate industrial development that threatens them,” said Ed Stierli, senior director for the Mid-Atlantic region at the nonprofit conservation organization Verein based in Washington, DC “The park clearly provides revenue for the local community, but the beautiful rapids and other natural resources make it priceless.”

Fall foliage in the Lehigh Valley

Hikers tackle Mt. Tammany in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area on a beautiful fall day in 2016.Saed Hindash | For lehighvalleylive.com

The report’s other suggestions include: more signage in Spanish, including educational and water safety materials; and urging the use of federal funds and congressional action to preserve and improve the Delaware River watershed.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is 70,000 acres and spans 40 miles of the Delaware River from I-80 at its southern end to the New York state line on the north. It’s an hour or two by car from New York City and Philadelphia, but with few amenities in the park itself, visitors will have to head into outlying communities.

(Can’t see the map? Click here.)

In the NCPA report, the $235 million generated by Water Gap Parklands in 2021 includes monies spent directly by visitors, broken down by industry. More than $32 million went to other leisure and amusement businesses, the park’s primary beneficiaries. Other top impacts were hotels and motels ($27 million); Museums, Historic Sites, Zoos and Parks ($25.7 million); and restaurants ($22.1 million for full service, $21.6 million for limited service). The NPCA report states that visitor spending at the park generated $2.9 million in state and local government tax revenue.

The economic impact in 2021 is up $16 million from 2015, the last time the NPCA assessed the economic impact of the water gap.

Separately, the National Park Service itself has reported that the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area has generated at least $165 million in economic activity. The resort’s best year in the past decade was also its most recent — $260 million in 2021, more than most other nearby National Park Service sites, including Valley Forge, Independence Hall, and the Statue of Liberty.

“Any way you look at it, it’s clear that visitors to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (and other national parks across the country) are a major economic driver for local communities, where they spend money and create jobs,” said Kathleen Sandt , a spokeswoman for the park told lehighvalleylive.com.

Delaware water gap

Interstate 80 and the Delaware River run through the Delaware Water Gap, separating New Jersey on the left and Pennsylvania on the right.Steve Novak | For lehighvalleylive.com | LightHawk

Although the NCPA has made proposals for park improvements, it has not participated in efforts to redesignate the national recreation area as a national park. Proponents say the change would bring more prestige and, as a result, more visitors, funds and protections. Opponents argue it would do more harm than good, potentially leading to more development near the park and increasing the risk of environmental damage.

Both the NCPA and National Park Service remain neutral pending congressional action, but there appears to be no support from local officials to initiate this change.

“We have been involved in and welcome community-level discussions about ways to further preserve and protect the park,” Stierli said.

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Steve Novak can be reached at [email protected].

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