THE BLOG
10/13/2009 04:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Other New Jersey Race: Parks Make Dollars, and Sense

Often our impulse to conserve land, rather than develop it, is rooted in our hearts: The landscapes we love to see, the places we played as children, the trails and paths that take us into nature. These are powerful reasons and they—our deep connections to land and nature—are why I work in land conservation. But I admit to a guilty pleasure: I also like a good deal.

Mounting evidence points to conserved land as a terrific investment. Whether it’s community forests protected as a revenue source for local economies; or larger scale landscapes conserved and leveraged for carbon credits or to protect drinking water quality; or a new, signature city park that adds value and livability to the surrounding neighborhood while serving as a tourist destination; or a converted railroad right of way that connects neighborhoods and creates opportunities for healthy exercise; land conservation—in all its forms—is bringing dollars to local governments and making compatible development more strategic, and more valuable. It is a win-win.

Many states are making dedicated, programmatic investments in land conservation, often in the form of matching funds which local towns and counties apply for by creating their own, locally mandated source of funding. These programs are growing in popularity, but until very recently, the scale of returned investment wasn’t clear. That’s changed.

Earlier this summer New Jersey faced a fiscal dilemma: ask the state’s voters to re-invest in Green Acres, a pioneering, statewide program for public funding of land and parks conservation; or let the well run dry for the first time in more than three decades.

But, as legislation to authorize a ballot measure stalled, an eleventh-hour cost-benefit analysis turned near defeat into sure victory. Turns out, for every dollar New Jersey has invested in conservation, the state has gained ten dollars in economic value. What a deal!

The analysis turned the tide in the legislature. And voters will get their say in November.

At stake is a $400 million bond to continue to keep the pace of preservation efforts that New Jersey voters have approved time and time again. This renewed investment will cost households $10 annually, and enable the protection of over 70,000 acres of land at a time when lower land values will give New Jersey voters a lot of bang for their bucks.

And for a family’s ten dollars each year, they not only invest in new parks and conserved lands; they invest in their own economy. Jobs are created when new parks are being built and landmarks are restored, and conservation leads to ecosystem benefits such as water purification, waste treatment, and flood mitigation. Economic benefits also come from fish and farm economies and outdoor recreation activity linked to open space.

More win-win. So while a certain gubernatorial race gets the ink, keep an eye on the opportunity New Jersey voters have to strike a good deal through land conservation.

For more information on conservation ballot measures this November, and in years past, visit www.landvote.org.