Pennsylvania’s lawmakers should make investments extra in outside recreation | Opinion

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By Alexandra Kosak

Every year, millions participate in outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania, pumping billions into the state’s economy. These residents and the business owners who will be helping even more Pennsylvanians enjoy the great outdoors this summer deserve to see investments made to keep our growing outdoor recreation economy potent.

A new economic study from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership finds that hunting, fishing, bicycling, camping and other activities generated $58 billion in nationwide spending in 2020 — a 26 percent increase from 2016. The The power of spending on outdoor recreation in PA is undeniable, especially since hunting, fishing and boating have been a real lifeline for so many during the pandemic. Pennsylvanians doing what they love supported more than 430,000 jobs — a 10 percent increase from six years ago — and earned $20 billion in wages and salaries.

It’s easy to see why water-centric activities have increased across the Commonwealth — with more than 86,000 miles of rivers and streams, Pennsylvania is a water-rich state. Many state parks and forests saw a 100 to 200 percent increase in visitor numbers in 2020, but parks with large water features saw foot traffic increase by as much as 400 percent.

Preserving our natural resources is critical for this to continue. With about 30 percent, or at least 25,000 miles, of Pennsylvania’s streams being impaired for one or more uses, much more investment is needed to realize the full potential of our waters. The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has said it needs $1.4 billion to address infrastructure challenges and the continued upkeep of our parks and forests.

To support habitat and access while boosting our economy, Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly should allocate adequate funding to a Growing Greener III program — which has a long track record of preserving the state’s fish and wildlife habitat — and Clean Streams provide funds from funds already granted to the state as part of national economic recovery efforts.

This would have impacts from Keystone State all the way to the Chesapeake Bay, a wise investment considering the bay filters drinking water for 75 percent of the watershed’s residents. Failure to restore Pennsylvania’s degraded waters means our sources of drinking water, outdoor recreation, wildlife and public health remain at risk.

For the benefit of the thousands of Pennsylvanians who work in the outdoor recreation industry and the countless families who want to continue enjoying the outdoors, staying healthy and making memories, we must provide the funding needed to give our economy this boost and at the same time to conserve the natural resources that increase our quality of life for years to come.

Alexandra Kozak is Field Service Manager for Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Pennsylvania.