Why are “Public Access” Lands Publicly Inaccessible?:
An assessment of the DEP’s Land Holdings Comparing the Towns of Kent and Olive, NY
Daniel Swerzenski, Vassar College ’18 and Prof. April M. BeisawWith the creation of New York City’s water supply system, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was tasked with ensuring its protection. The recent Land Acquisition Program (LAP) enabled them to purchase over 130,000 acres of private property to reduce pollution through minimizing development. A majority of acquired lands are made into public recreation units, open to activities such as hunting, hiking, and fishing, often by permit. Units categorized as “Public Access Area” do not require a permit, which can be easily obtained online but not on-site. Once at these areas, parking can be hard to find and signage is often inconsistent with DEP provided maps. In the town of Olive, public access areas are anything but accessible. In contrast, the town of Kent properties, which require permits, usually have easy access to parking and signs identifying the unit name. This summer, my research team conducted approximately 60 hours of field survey covering 37 miles of DEP property in both Kent and Olive. Over this time, we never encountered other people using these lands for recreation. We have concluded, through the objects that people have left behind (i.e. beer bottles, shotgun shells, fire pits, and automotive items), that many units are not used for the designated activities. Why are these public access lands inaccessible? Why are accessible lands being misused? The DEP is not actually about encouraging public recreation; their priority is protecting the water supply.