House Committee Discusses Where To Find $500 Million To Fix State Parks; Don’t Forget $500 Million Needed To Address State Forest Maintenance Needs
On January 15, the House Tourism and Recreation Development Committee heard a presentation on DCNR’s Penn’s Parks For All, a strategic plan for State Parksnow in the final stages of development to keep them relevant to the recreational needs of Pennsylvanians for the next 25 years.
However, the biggest topic discussed at the meeting was how to get the funding needed to address the $500 million in maintenance and safety improvements needed in State Parks.
What was not mentioned was the additional $500 million needed for maintenance and safety improvements needed in Pennsylvania’s State Forests.
Paul Zeph, Chief of the Planning Section of DCNR’s Bureau of State Parks, told the Committee the Penn’s Parks For All initiative survey the public and users of State Parks in a number of different ways to get their thoughts on what is good, bad, needs improvement or could be added to the parks.
An online survey available to anyone in state or out of state (10,000 responses), surveys handed out at the parks themselves (4,000 responses) and a telephone survey of minority groups and other underrepresented individuals and the public at large filled in the gaps.
Zeph said there was strong public agreement for quiet, wild and remote camping experiences in campgrounds, keeping trails free of motorized recreation and resort-style accommodations, continued emphasis on healthful outdoor recreation activities and active adventure experiences.
He added that participants agreed the state should increase funding to maintain and improve park facilities without creating new entrance fees.
Zeph noted State Parks have a significant impact on the state’s economy and support 12,630 jobs, bring in $400 million in labor income and generate $1.15 billion in economic activity.
For every $1 invested in State Parks, $12.41 is returned to the state’s economy.
Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) and some other members of the Committee suggested DCNR do more to attract out-of-state visitors and add facilities.
[Note: Rep. Moul was part of a group of legislators who supported legislation in 2016-- House Bill 2013-- that would have opened Pennsylvania’s State Parks to private, commercial development which was opposed by environmental and other groups. The bill was defeated 123 to 77 in the House, but the issue has not gone away. Click Here for more.
[Rep. Moul and other House Republicans have also been involved in efforts to take funding away from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund and the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund to balance the state budget rather than support local and state recreational facility maintenance and development. Click Here for more.]
Zeph said the issue of adding facilities to draw out-of-state users has been studied and has come up in other states, and that many have lost money adding golf courses or resorts or other amenities that are not used year-round.
He noted the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County was built as a bed and breakfast-type facility and has been "wildly popular," but it still has to be subsidized by the Commonwealth.
Other members of the Committee raised the issue of entrance fees to State Parks.
Zeph said other states have entrance fees or annual passes for visitors and there has always been the question of how much new money those fees actually do raise for parks because those systems tended to lose other funding.
He noted In Pennsylvania, State Parks were typically built with multiple entrances making the logistics of collecting fees a challenge.
In response to other questions, Zeph said the DCNR has been reevaluating fees for cabins and a variety of services to recoup more of the costs and to bring them more in line with fees charged for similar private in the area.
With respect to what is included in the $500 million backlog for State Parks, Zeph said they are frequently “big ticket items” like dams, sewage and drinking water systems.
A complete copy of the draft Plan and recommendations as well as other information on public surveys made as part of the planning process are available at DCNR’s Penn’s Parks For All webpage.
Learn more about the more than $1 billion backlog in much needed maintenance projects in State Parks and Forests by visiting the PA Parks and Forest Foundation website.
DCNR is also in the middle of developing a broader statewide recreation plan to help guide their recreation policies, programs and investments at the local, regional and state level. Click Here for more.
Rep. David Millard (R-Columbia) serves as Majority Chair of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1102 or send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rep. Mark Longietti (D-Mercer) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-772-4035 or send email to: email@example.com.
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[Posted: January 16, 2020]
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