First Secretary, Current Secretary Celebrate DCNR’s 20th Anniversary
Two decades separated their milestones when they assumed leadership roles, steering DCNR through waters that sometimes could be rough, often challenging, but always part of a sea that is beautiful.
One was the very first captain, the other, the most recently named, and both came together to join in praising their crew.
Together, John C. Oliver III and Cindy Adams Dunn celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and its past accomplishments by acknowledging the men and women who wear the DCNR logo daily. Many of them gathered July 22 to hear the salute personally:
“Often, when people learn I was secretary, they’ll ask, ‘What was it like to be a state employee? A bureaucrat?’” Oliver told his audience, gathered in Harrisburg’s Rachel Carson State Office Building. “And I honestly say, ‘It was the best job I’ve ever had.'
“And I can thank many of you folks here for that. There is a passion here that you bring to the job—daily—that is so different from other state employees in other departments. It is this commitment that makes DCNR the finest conservation organization in the United States.”
(Photo: From left: former Human Resources Bureau Director Dennis Farley, former State Parks Bureau Director Bill Forrey, current DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn, and former DCNR Secretary John Oliver.)
On July 6, 1995, then Gov. Tom Ridge nominated Oliver, longtime president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, to be the first secretary of the new department created just five days earlier.
On that date, a bill was signed into law restructuring the former Department of Environmental Resources into two cabinet-level agencies—Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.
“John Oliver is one of Pennsylvania's most respected conservationists," Gov. Ridge said in announcing the appointment. “I can think of no one more qualified to manage the parks and woodlands that are so precious to all of us and which, in fact, give our state its very name.”
Just about 20 years later, Gov. Tom Wolf used similar words to describe Dunn as he swore in his nominee to become DCNR’s sixth secretary.
The official ceremony came just hours before an anniversary gathering that was marked by a large-scale turnout of retirees and noted guests; a special, celebratory cake; and an address by the newest department secretary.
Dunn called upon her listeners to liken DCNR’s 20-year-mark to the peregrine falcons taking flight from the building’s nearby nest, or view it as a student graduating college: “The best is yet to come,” she said.
“Where are we going now?” asked the secretary. “The answer can be found in the principles upon which this department was founded—partnerships, stewardship and service. Those pillars continue to resonate here today.”
Noting state parks and state forests have the means, methods and committed people to best chip away at a demonstrated disconnect between families and the outdoors, Dunn said DCNR must continue striving to lure youngsters out of their homes and into woods, fields and streams around them.
“We must reach out to the children of today who will become the conservationists of tomorrow,” she said.
Throughout July, DCNR has been celebrating the 20th anniversary of its creation with a digital education campaign informing citizens about its mission and encouraging more people to visit Pennsylvania’s public lands.
The new department brought new focus, Dunn said: “Although we had a long history of stewardship through our bureaus, the move made conservation and management of our natural resources a priority, and recognized the importance of our parks and forests to quality of life, tourism and our economy.”
As part of the July celebration, DCNR launched an Instagram account (@padcnr), and is featuring 30 days of unique posts about the agency on it, using #DCNR20. Content also is shared on Facebook at Pa. DCNR and Twitter through @DCNRNews, and visitors to state parks and forests are encouraged to submit photos of their experiences on these social media.
Some DCNR accomplishments over the past 20 years include:
-- Expanding the State Park system to 120—one within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian—and being recognized nationally as the best park system in country;
-- Becoming the first independently certified public forest in the nation, and the country’s longest continuously certified, well-managed forest;
-- Awarding grants that have assisted all Pennsylvania counties and more than 50 percent of all communities—urban and rural—in meeting their recreation and conservation needs;
-- Created a Conservation Landscape Program that is recognized as a national model for regional place-based landscape conservation;
-- Constructed 10 LEED-certified park and forest buildings;
-- Expanded the award-winning TreeVitalize community tree-planting and education program to communities across the state, planting about 400,000 trees;
-- Launched Get Outdoors Pennsylvania-guided programs to use outdoor recreation activities such as hiking, canoeing, and biking to engage new audiences and to create meaningful and lasting connections between the commonwealth’s citizens and its natural resources; and
-- Completed and continue to upgrade a high resolution aerial photography and elevation data for Pennsylvania used by all segments of government, industry and the general population.
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