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December 06, 2016
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Narrowsburg lost a little gem this month, with the closing of the National Park Service’s (NPS) information center and bookstore on Main Street. It was a fixture in the hamlet for more than 30 years. Opening in June 1981, the Narrowsburg site was chosen for its central location along the 73.5-mile stretch of river in the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. Its closure is a casualty of sequestration, the federal government’s across-the-board, automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion nationwide over 10 years.

With sadness we say “good-by” to this NPS presence. You helped enrich our town. The little shop, with its wealth of information about the Upper Delaware River Valley and the many pursuits people come here to enjoy, will be missed. So, too, we will miss the staff and volunteers, who became our friends.

Annually, this destination served an average of 2,750 visitors who came for information, or to buy from a wide selection of helpful educational items, or just to browse. In this little niche of Narrowsburg, one could find books about local history (D&H Canal and native American history); a large selection of materials about eagles; topographical maps; fishing maps and fishing guides; bird guides; books on kayaking and paddling in the river, and a section of books and gifts devoted to activities for children.

For now, all of those materials have been boxed up and put in storage.

Narrowsburg, of course, feels a keen sense of this loss. Without the large information signs out on the highway, pointing people to Narrowsburg’s Main Street, the question arises of how this will impact the local economy.

But the issue is bigger than that, as Elaine Giguere, executive director of the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (the DVAA is the landlord for the space just vacated by the NPS) explained. “It’s the loss of a gateway,” she said, alluding to the bridge that links two states and both sides of the national park. “It’s a loss to New York,” she added, meaning the whole New York side of the river and beyond. (The bulk of NPS facilities are now on the PA side.) “And it’s a loss to Sullivan County,” she concluded.

Last week in a nostalgic moment, NPS Park Ranger Connie Lloyd recalled “how great it was to be part of the community—to be part of EagleFest, RiverFest and the Fourth of July.

“This marks the turning of a page,” she added, “and we don’t really know what will happen in the future.”

The future, of course, will be what we make it.

We at The River Reporter believe it’s finally time to find a solution to acquiring a visitors and/or information center for the Upper Delaware River Valley. Too many opportunities have been lost in the past. At one point there was even money—lots of it—to build a visitors center in Cochecton. Former U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey helped get Congress to authorize funds ($600,000) and state Senator John Bonacic helped win the promise of another $250,000. But Sullivan County, feeling it could not come through with the required matching funds to back the Cochecton site (20% of the federal grant), instead worked to move the project to Narrowsburg’s Fort Delaware historic roadside attraction, where county-owned property would have helped fulfill that requirement. Ultimately, the use of the authorized funds for Cochecton expired, and Congress declined to reauthorize Rep. Hinchey’s earmark for the new location.

Now, the Town of Lumberland is talking of creating a visitors center. The town has applied for a state grant ($325,000) to buy property for such a facility near its border with the Town of Highland. While it is tempting to applaud anyone with the drive to get a visitors center for their town, what is needed is a well-thought-out plan to benefit the whole Upper Delaware River Region from Hancock to Sparrowbush.

We believe the needs of the NPS also need to be considered. Its mission is not like that of visitors centers that are filled with business brochures promoting travel and tourism destinations and activities. According to Sean McGuinness, park superintendent of the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, from the NPS point of view, information and interpretive centers need to inspire by telling the story of a place and its people. He envisions a center built sustainably with local materials—locally harvested logs and locally quarried blue stone. These materials themselves are interwoven with our region’s heritage. “This valley has so much to offer,” McGuinness said last week. “It needs a visitors center.”

The River Reporter heartily agrees, and we feel that this time is the time to get it right.