Now, after receiving countless visitors over decades, Parvin State Park, on the edge of the Pine Barrens in Salem County, needs improvements beyond regular maintenance.
Long-range plans call for the design and construction of a group cabin for $1 million, upgrades to the office/bathhouse complex and sanitary facilities for $900,000, and road and beach upgrades for $800,000, said officials in the state Department of Environmental Protection. An additional $100,000 has been proposed for a feasibility study for a new interpretive center.
But improvements can't come fast enough for a local nonprofit group of park supporters that has mounted a petition drive - so far with more than 1,000 signatures - hoping to persuade state officials to earmark $20 million for the site.
The 27 volunteers in the Parvin State Park Appreciation Committee say the money is needed to reverse the deterioration of the park, long considered a jewel in the New Jersey state park system.
The 1,925-acre Parvin underwent a massive cleanup after a ferocious storm - known as a derecho - brought down thousands of trees and killed two young campers in summer 2012. It was cleaned up again last fall after being further damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
The park needs more investment, though, said Robert Zuest, president of the Parvin State Park Appreciation Committee, who lives in Pittsgrove Township next to the park.
He wants to see Parvin Lake and Thundergust Lake dredged, decaying cabins rehabbed, trails cut back, restrooms upgraded, and roads widened to accommodate today's vehicles.
"People feel it's the state's responsibility to budget money to have their park taken care of," said Zuest, 49, who founded the Appreciation Committee when he was 16. "It's a budget game - whoever screams the loudest, and we're trying to scream loud."
The organization promotes public use of the park, educates visitors about its history, and provides volunteers to help maintain the site.
"Nothing major has been done [by the state] that comes close to what's needed," Zuest said. It doesn't "believe in preventative maintenance. If it's not broke, don't fix it."
State officials said some work had been done over the last several years, including the dredging of the bathing area at Parvin Lake for nearly $448,000, replacement of the septic system for more than $418,000, and rehab of the picnic area for $33,000.
Other work was performed between fiscal 2007 and 2011: some road improvements, well renovations, and asbestos abatement and demolition of an old maintenance building.
"These are capital projects over and above the normal maintenance done at the park," DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said. "Like all other state parks and natural areas, Parvin competes for capital dollars."
For real progress, though, Zuest said, the park needs about $4 million a year for five years.
That amount represents about a quarter of the annual budget for the state park system and is unrealistic, Ragonese said.
"We, of course, appreciate the folks who care about the park and we're happy to talk to them about specific concerns," he said. "They are not being shortchanged. Parvin is on our radar, but we can't redirect all our assets into one park."
State allocations are based on the needs and character of each park as well as the availability of funds, state officials said.
"Parvin is a more rustic park, aimed at a more natural outdoors experience, for camping and hiking and nature watching," Ragonese said. "On purpose, it does not have the polish of, say, a Liberty State Park or Island Beach State Park."
But Zuest said visitors expected the park's buildings to be in better shape than they are. "Ninety-five percent of the structures were constructed by the CCC in the mid- to late '30s and early '40s, including cabins" rented by the public, he said. "They have a lot of rot - and a lot of money needs to be spent."
Parvin and Thundergust Lakes also are too shallow in areas. Thundergust has had "algae issues and an odor emanating from stagnant water," Zuest said. "It's not aesthetically pleasing."
But Ragonese countered that park users "have not been complaining about facilities or trails."
"We worked hard to clear the massive amount of tree damage caused by a storm . . . and have restored the park to full use," he said. "Parvin gets the same attention as all of our state parks and natural areas.
"It is on a regular schedule for needed improvements. The work is prioritized based on need."
The state has kept all of its parks open during the last four years "despite the economic woes that hit the nation and state. And we have not raised rates charged to enter parks where entry or parking fees are required," Ragonese said. "I think that is a very good record."