Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

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Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Silver Thread Falls, the smaller waterfall at Dingman's Falls site, near Dingman's Ferry, Pennsylvania, June 2006
Map showing the location of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Map showing the location of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Map showing the location of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Map showing the location of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Map showing the location of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
Map showing the location of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
LocationNew Jersey and Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nearest cityStroudsburg, Pennsylvania,
Port Jervis, New York
Coordinates41°09′14″N 74°54′50″W / 41.15381°N 74.91388°W / 41.15381; -74.91388Coordinates: 41°09′14″N 74°54′50″W / 41.15381°N 74.91388°W / 41.15381; -74.91388
Area66,741 acres (270.09 km2)[1]
EstablishedSeptember 1, 1965 (1965-September-01)
Visitors4,068,529 (in 2020)[2]
Governing bodyNational Park Service
WebsiteDelaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is a 70,000-acre (28,000 ha) national recreation area administered by the National Park Service in northwest New Jersey and northeast Pennsylvania. It is centered around a 40-mile (64 km) stretch of the Delaware River designated the Middle Delaware National Scenic River. At the area's southern end lays the Delaware Water Gap, a dramatic mountain pass where the river cuts between Blue Mountain and Kittatinny Mountain

More than 4 million people visit the recreation area annually, many from the nearby New York metropolitan area. Canoeing, kayaking, and rafting trips down the river are popular in the summer. Other activities include hiking, rock climbing, swimming, fishing, hunting, camping, cycling, cross-country skiing, and horseback riding. Worthington State Forest and a section of the long-distance Appalachian Trail are located within the area, alongside numerous waterfalls and historic sites.

The region, known historically as the Minisink, was inhabited by the Munsee at the time of Dutch and French Huguenot colonization in the late 17th century. The national recreation area was established in 1965 ahead of a dam project which would have flooded a large region north of the Water Gap. Over 15,000 people were displaced as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acquired land for the reservoir. The controversial project was ultimately canceled in 1978 and the land transferred to the recreation area.

There are recent efforts to re-designate the area as a national park, the first in New Jersey or Pennsylvania.


The recreation area includes parts of Sussex and Warren counties in New Jersey, and Monroe, Northampton, and Pike counties in Pennsylvania. The Appalachian Trail runs along much of the eastern boundary of the park and is maintained and updated by the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference.

Canoe at Poxono Access

The park offers historical and cultural sites including the Minisink Archaeological Site, Millbrook Village, and the arts center in Peters Valley and rural scenery approximately an hour's drive from New York City. The park has significant Native American archaeological sites. In addition, a number of structures remain from early Dutch settlement during the colonial period. Outdoor recreational activities include canoeing, hiking, camping, swimming, cycling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, and picnicking. Fishing and hunting are permitted in season with valid state licenses.

The area is also noted for its many waterfalls. These include Buttermilk Falls, the tallest falls in New Jersey at about 90 feet (27 m), and Raymondskill Falls, the tallest in Pennsylvania at about 150 feet (46 m).

Geology and geography[edit]

Delaware Water Gap[edit]

"The Gap" as seen from the Delaware River Viaduct

The namesake feature of the recreation area is the prominent Delaware Water Gap, located at the area's southern end. The Delaware River runs through the gap, separating Pennsylvania's Mount Minsi on Blue Mountain, elevation 1,461 feet (445 m), from New Jersey's Mount Tammany on Kittatinny Mountain, elevation 1,527 feet (465 m). The gap is less than 1,000 feet (300 m) wide at river level and less than 1 mile (1.6 km) wide at the ridge line. The river is about 350 feet (110 m) wide at the gap.

The gap has long facilitated transportation across the ridge, with Pennsylvania building the first road through the gap in 1793. Today, I-80 occupies the eastern side of the gap, while PA 611 and the Pocono Mainline of the Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad runs through the western side.


The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area incorporates much of the historical Minisink. The Minisink (or more recently "Minisink Valley") is a loosely defined geographic region of the Upper Delaware River valley in northwestern New Jersey (Sussex and Warren counties), northeastern Pennsylvania (Pike and Monroe counties) and New York (Orange and Sullivan counties). The name was derived by Dutch colonists from the Munsee name for the area. While the term "Minisink" is not used often today, it is preserved because of its historical significance in the early European settlement of the region during the American colonial period and as an artifact of the early "first contact" between Native Americans and early European explorers, traders and missionaries in the seventeenth century.[3]


The Water Gap depicted in 1830

At the time of European contact, the Minisink was inhabited by Munsee, the northern branch of the Lenape. The area's first European settlers arrived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and were Dutch and French Huguenot families from colonial New York's Hudson River Valley.[3]

Tocks Island Dam project[edit]

Rendering of Tocks Island Dam

The Delaware River is prone to floods—some resulting from seasonal snow melt or rain run-off from heavy rainstorms. However, record flooding occurred in August 1955 in the aftermath of two separate hurricanes (Hurricane Connie and Hurricane Diane) that passed over the area within the span of one week. On 19 August 1955, the river gauge at Riegelsville, Pennsylvania recorded that the Delaware River reached a crest of 38.85 feet, or 16.85 feet above flood stage.

A project to dam the river near Tocks Island was in the works before the 1955 floods. But several deaths and severe damages resulting from these floods brought the issue of flood control to the national level. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the construction of the dam, which would have created a 37-mile (60-km) long lake between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with depths of up to 140 feet. The area around the lake would be established as the Tocks Island National Recreation Area under the oversight of the National Park Service, to offer recreation activities such as hunting, hiking, fishing, and boating. In addition to flood control and recreation, the dam would be used to generate hydroelectric power and provide a clean water supply to New York City and Philadelphia.

Starting in 1960, the present-day area of the Recreation Area was acquired for the Army Corps of Engineers through eminent domain. Approximately 15,000 people were displaced by the condemnation of personal property along the Delaware River and the surrounding area. An estimated 3,000 to 5,000 dwellings and outbuildings were demolished in preparation for the dam project and subsequent flooding of the valley. This included many irreplaceable historical sites and structures connected with the valley's Native American and colonial heritage.

Establishment of the recreation area[edit]

Fog surrounds cliffs looming over the Delaware River whose valley is the core of the historic Minisink region, July 2007

In support of the Tocks Island Dam project, Congress authorized the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in 1965. The area was intended to encompass a narrow strip of shoreline surrounding the reservoir,[4] in part to make the project more cost-effective.[5]

The dam project was embroiled in controversy, engendering strong opposition from environmental groups and embittered, displaced residents. Due to this opposition, the unavailability of funding for the dam, and a geological assessment revealing the dam would be located near active fault lines, the federal government ultimately decided to abandon the project in 1978. The lands acquired were then transferred to the National Park Service and added to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.[6][5][7][8]

Recent history[edit]

The recreation area is currently facing major under-funding.[when?] Deferred maintenance costs total over $161 million, with an annual $6 million routine maintenance cost.[9]

In November 2021, a proposal was introduced to redesignate the recreational area as a full-fledged national park, which would make it the first such park in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Local Sierra Club chapters have supported this proposal, claiming it would help to improve the Recreation Area's infrastructure and capacity for tourists.[10][11]

Superintendents and regional affiliations[edit]

Previous and current superintendents of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area include:

  • Peter DeGelleke, 1965–1973
  • James McLaughlin, 1973–1979
  • Albert "Amos" Hawking, 1979–1988
  • Richard Ring, 1988–1992
  • Roger Rector, 1992–1997
  • William Laitner, 1997–2003
  • John Donahue, 2003–2017
  • Sula Jacobs, 2018–present

The park is currently a part of Interior Region 1 of the National Park Service. It was originally a part of the Northeast region, and later the North Atlantic-Appalachian Region.


Notable sites within the Park[edit]


  1. ^ "Listing of acreage – December 31, 2011" (XLSX). Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-12-16. (National Park Service Acreage Reports)
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
  3. ^ a b Osborne, Peter (31 December 2013). "Maps of the Minisink Region". Minisink Valley Historical Society. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  4. ^ "Tocks Island Dam Controversy - Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area". National Park Service. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  5. ^ a b "Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area". Skylands Visitor. Summer 1998. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  6. ^ Obiso, Laura. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (2008), 7-8.
  7. ^ See: Feiveson, Harold; Sinden, Frank; and Socolow, Robert. Boundaries of Analysis: An Inquiry Into the Tocks Island Dam Controversy. (1976). Albert, Richard C. Damming the Delaware: The Rise and Fall of Tocks Island Dam (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1987).
  8. ^ "The Legacy of Tocks Island," Pocono Record, August 12, 2001
  9. ^ "Northeast Region Infrastructure Fact Sheets". National Park Service. p. 18. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  10. ^ Nark, Jason (2021-11-06). "Delaware Water Gap could become the first national park in Pennsylvania, New Jersey". USA Today. Retrieved 2022-03-12.
  11. ^ Nark, Jason. "Pennsylvania and New Jersey could get their first national park". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2022-05-31.

External links[edit]