Whither the visitor center?
An account in The River Reporter of Town of Lumberland Supervisor Nadia Rajsz’ effort to acquire property for a visitor center provoked a lengthy exchange at the September 5 meeting of the Upper Delaware Council.
The question of which entity—the National Park Service (NPS) or the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, or both—would be served by the center went unanswered, but decades of past failed visitor center efforts were part of the discussion.
Last month Rajsz announced a $325,000 state grant application and won town board approval to acquire a “right of first refusal” on a Route 97 property near Lumberland’s border with the Town of Highland. The 2.3-acre property, known as “the Coop,” adjoins the NPS ranger office next door. She then said her plan was that the property was to become a visitor center and emergency river access to be co-managed with NPS.
The Town of Tusten has hosted the only NPS location dealing with visitor information, but NPS has said budget cuts are forcing closure of the Main Street, NPS book store. Tusten’s alternate delegate, Tony Ritter, asked Rajsz to explain the newspaper account and how NPS could assist this project, while the book store, which cost $10,000 annually to operate, was being closed.
“History, tourism and economic development are all near to my heart,” said Ritter, who said he was concerned about “the gap between” the closure of the book store and any development in Lumberland.
“We’ve applied, but there is no grant yet. If we get it, then we’ll talk to NPS,” Rajsz replied.
Deerpark delegate David Dean was skeptical about acquiring state money. “Do you honestly believe there is money sitting somewhere? You have an earmark… there is no money.”
NPS Upper Delaware Superintendent Sean McGuinness confirmed that the property is “high on our list for acquisition” and that “NPS could enter into an agreement to provide technical expertise,” but the agency can’t develop land not federally owned. He said he was “warned” that there is “no money for a visitor center, but we can partner.”
During the 1980s, an NPS visitor center site was originally proposed in the Town of Deerpark near the Orange-Sullivan county line, but New York State Department of Environmental Conservation concerns about disturbance of bald eagles ended the plan.
Visitor center discussion was largely shelved until 2005, when then U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey acquired $600,000 and state Senator John Bonacic won $250,000 for development of the historic Cochecton Erie Railroad Station as a visitor center for the Route 97 Scenic Byway, which was to be managed by co-sponsor Sullivan County.
Cochecton delegate Larry Richardson said plans were then agreed for the town to provide summer and winter maintenance and NPS agreed to provide trash removal, “but nothing happened.”
He said he had learned the county did not move on the project in Cochecton, “because there was nothing else there,” and the federal money was lost when Fort Delaware in Tusten became the next proposed visitor center site in 2010. Lacking federal funding, the Tusten plan has also stalled.
Ritter suggested that a recreational vehicle could be equipped and used as a mobile visitor center to be manned at various locations and events.
Rajsz said the Byway provides for more than one interpretive center. She also admitted that “a lot has been lost” between the Deerpark and Cochecton plans, but she said she would “move forward [with Lumberland’s plan] until the county stops us.”