The Tribune-Review editors recently asked, “How many state parks is enough?” (October 3, TribLIVE) when contacting the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to add three new states to its system added parks. Despite apparent bias, we believe this new investment is badly needed and hopefully just the beginning.
First off, there has been a huge increase in visitor numbers to the 121 state parks, now 124, during the Covid-19 pandemic. People are “voting with their feet” (a term we like to use at DCNR) by using parks, forests and Visiting hiking trails of all kinds, proving that interest in the health and wellness benefits of the great outdoors goes nowhere.
As noted in the editorial, for every $1 invested in state parks, more than $12 returns to the local economy, representing approximately $1 billion in direct economic impact. But the story has more to offer. Outdoor recreation contributes to Pennsylvania’s economy and supports 150,000 full-time jobs.
Equally important, survey after survey shows us that creating new outdoor recreation opportunities for Pennsylvania residents is a high priority. To meet the needs and desires of the evolving outdoor user community, we must continue to invest in infrastructure improvements such as connecting hiking trails and updating campgrounds to accommodate everyone from small groups to large families.
With the addition of three new state parks, Pennsylvania has the opportunity to respond to public demand by providing new outdoor recreation opportunities in areas of critical need.
State parks in the eastern half of Pennsylvania tend to be smaller and have less capacity than those in the west, and often have to close to visitors during our busiest times due to overcrowding.
Wyoming County now has its first state park at Vosburg Neck State Park. It is accessible by car from populated areas in the North East Commonwealth Corridor where we see overcrowding and sometimes have to turn people away on weekends.
Chester County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country and is facing tremendous development pressures to accommodate that growth. The conservation of land in this region and the establishment of Big Elk Creek State Park is critical to the conservation and use of the land in a way that benefits those who live nearby or travel within the Philadelphia area.
York County is similarly facing significant development pressures to accommodate population growth and camp and industrial development in the area. The addition of Susquehanna Riverlands saves valuable space along the mighty Susquehanna River and connects users in the greater Harrisburg, Lancaster, York area with a short drive while expanding access to the river through Codorus Creek.
So the answer is a resounding yes! Preserving 3,500 hectares and making them available for public use is a strategic step at the right time. We will also continue to work with communities to expand outdoor recreation opportunities in the Commonwealth through grants and partnerships, and continue to listen to people seeking outdoor refuge from the daily pressures of life. Now is the time to transform outdoor recreation and use public land for people.
State parks support local economies, are in high demand, and are free and welcoming to all. We are proud to make this addition to our system for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians.
Cindy Adams Dunn is Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.