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Delaware Water Gap Could Be the Appalachian Trail’s Next National Park

It's a well-known waypoint for thru-hikers—and if local government gets its way, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area may be on its way to becoming something more.

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Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a river valley carved into the middle of the Appalachians, is one of the Appalachian Trail’s most recognizable stops. Now, a group of locals is pushing to upgrade it: New Jersey’s Warren County Board of Commissioners recently voted on a resolution that could turn Delaware Water Gap into a national park—the first in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

While the commission unanimously agreed on the resolution, an act of Congress is necessary for the new designation to go into effect. U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer is reported to be advocating for this change. 

“The designation of National Park for the Delaware Water Gap is long overdue,” said Commissioner Lori Ciesla. “The magnitude of the beauty and history of this natural resource rivals that of our other national parks, and I hope our federal representatives will help us make this a reality.”

The Delaware Water Gap is a welcome sight for most northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. For many, it marks the end of the state of Pennsylvania where glacial rock formations can be difficult on ankles and gear. Some 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail pass through the recreation area. 

In 2020, the region saw over 4 million visitors, which is on par with some of the country’s more popular national parks, though far short of the 14.1 million that Great Smoky Mountains National Park saw in 2019. The recreation area is currently home to about 70,000 acres of land, and 40 miles of protected river. It also contains a section of the largest undammed river in the eastern United States and several significant archeological sites. 

According to the council, a national park designation could help recognize the culture of Delaware Water Gap’s Native inhabitants as well. 

“This action will establish formal recognition of the sacred homeland of the Lenape people to all who visit the Delaware River National Park and Lenape Preserve in perpetuity,” the resolution read.  “A Lenape Cultural and Education Center within the Preserve could be authorized and established, creating greater understanding of the Lenapehoking and the “First People” within the public.”

While the National Park Service already manages the recreation area, a new designation would increase the amount of funding that the park receives, helping the area to target essential maintenance and repairs. The added prestige could boost visitation and recognition among travelers as well, powering the region’s tourist economy. With the exception of the elimination of hunting, a re-designation would create very little outward change for visitors (though a similar designation for the New River Gorge preserved hunting access in parts of the new park.)

If Congress takes action, John Donahue, former superintendent of Delaware Water Gap, believes that this new designation could take place as early as November of this year. 

“This place already functions that way,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We’d basically just need some new signs.”