During the pandemic, Ohiopyle State Park saw a record number of visitors as people looked for ways to find a sense of normalcy.
While those numbers have declined somewhat in recent years, state officials are hoping to take advantage of the myriad outdoor recreational activities available throughout Pennsylvania with the formation of the Recreation Engagement Coalition (REC).
“Public lands are at the heart of outdoor recreation, which is why it is critical that the (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) remain focused on strategic growth and coordination to ensure the outdoors is welcoming and welcoming for all Pennsylvanians and visitors accessible,” said State Director of Outdoor Recreation Nathan Reigner.
Ohiopyle State Park in Farmington is one of 121 free state parks in Pennsylvania operated by the DCNR. In 2020, the park saw a significant increase in visitors, with an estimated 1.367 million visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. While that number fell to an estimated 882,914 visitors last year, it’s still above average, said Ken Bisbee, the park’s operations manager.
“Although the 2020 and 2021 numbers are down, they’re still not quite where they were in 2019, and given a rainy summer, it tells me people appreciate state parks and outdoor recreation more now than they did before the pandemic.” said Bisbee.
“People need nature,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, noting that being in nature can help reduce stress, which improves overall health.
Her opinion was supported by Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health and Surgeon General Dr. Denise Johnson, who said there’s no question outdoor recreation is vital to good health.
She said outdoor recreation can improve mental health, strengthen the body, help control chronic illness, help with cognitive decline, and other immediate and long-term benefits.
“That’s why we want to make sure we include outdoor recreation in our quest for a healthy Pennsylvania for all,” Johnson said.
Michael Hanna Jr., executive deputy secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, said outdoor recreation contributes $11.8 billion to the economy and creates about 150,000 jobs, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.
“So you can see from the raw data perspective that outdoor recreation is a big part of our economy,” Hanna said, adding that this is especially true in many rural areas where such recreation also attracts tourism, new residents and businesses. “We have something for every outdoor lover in Pennsylvania.”
He said the US Bureau of Economic Analysis ranks Pennsylvania among the top 15 states in all nine outdoor recreation categories and in the top 10 in six outdoor recreation categories.
“It gives Pennsylvania a tremendous competitive advantage,” said Hanna.