Never has our work been more important to people than during the darkness and uncertainty brought on almost 10 months ago by the pandemic.
When you read through the 2020 accomplishments, you’ll see examples of our individual bureaus facing challenges never imagined as the pandemic throttled our basic lifestyles, altering them drastically, and changing so much of what we took for granted.
Not changing was the public’s desire for access to the solace and healthy exercise found in our state and local parks and state forests. During the pandemic, that demand accelerated at a record pace.
And, our folks rose to the task with unparalleled dedication, enthusiasm, and imagination, always cognizant of the safety of visitors and welfare of the resource. I am incredibly proud of this department.
- Our Bureau of State Parks saw park attendance increase from 37 million in 2019 to more than 45.3 million in 2020 -- a 22.4 percent increase! As the numbers mounted, park staff scrambled to address cancelation and refund issues while first closing, then reopening facilities, always with a keen eye to visitor safety.
- Our Bureau of Forestry addressed over-capacity issues at many of its scenic areas, especially those linked to water. During a year of unprecedented state forest recreation-use levels, the bureau developed internal site monitoring protocols and an interactive map to track visitor use. The tool was especially important to forest managers in addressing unprecedented use of the state forest system during COVID-19. Special ranger patrols were organized and deployed quickly and effectively to ensure public safety and responsible forest use.
- Our Bureau of Recreation and Conservation was the driving force behind DCNR’s announcements of 2020 investments projects across Pennsylvania that will create new recreational opportunities, conserve natural resources, and help revitalize local communities. Despite pandemic restrictions, the bureau announced grant investments earlier than ever. A total of 267 awards were announced with $55.3 million in funding.
- With safety and efficiency squarely in mind, the Bureau of Facility Design and Construction will transition to electronic bidding for construction contracts in 2021. Advantages include enabling bidders, contractors, and staff to address application processes at home.
- Meanwhile, Bureau of Geological Survey staff took advantage of the work-at-home scenario to try to address statewide groundwater data and meet ongoing public demand for maps and scientific and archival materials.
To be sure, 2020 will go down as a most memorable year for this department, one marked by continued challenge and commitment of its people to preserve and protect, while they continue to embrace new programs designed to enhance and safeguard the natural world around us.
Beginning my seventh year as secretary, I constantly am reminded of the wealth of stunning state parks, forests, mountains, rivers, and trails with which we are blessed.
DCNR staff also pressed forward on seven strategic initiatives that have the future squarely in focus. Highlights include:
Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps: Despite the challenges of COVID, DCNR’s successful Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps completed its fifth year. The Outdoor Corps employed and trained 61 participants who improved and installed 118 visitor-use structures, maintained 544 acres of land, improved 2 miles of shoreline, rehabilitated and constructed 89 miles of trail, and installed and maintained 3,911 native plants in Pennsylvania’s parks, forests and public lands. In 2020, eight corps members/alumni were hired into DCNR positions.
Climate Change: The Climate Initiative expanded its reach in 2020 thanks in part of the pandemic and teleworking. Presentations and participation in meetings and conferences likely reached well over a thousand people directly; and many, many more through our social media outreach and via our website. We also ran a successful climate change lunch and learn series for staff throughout the state.
Streamside Buffers for Water Quality: DCNR continued its efforts to get trees and shrubs planted along streamsides. The Buffer My Stream outreach effort was launched in the summer, involving direct mail to residential and rural landowners to encourage them to register for free technical assistance and funding to help them plant native trees and shrubs on their properties.
More than 180 property owners responded. Four plantings on properties occurred this fall, with more scheduled for next spring. A reporting and tracking tool called PracticeKeeper is now in place for buffers, allowing DCNR staff and external partners to input acres of streamside buffers they plant.
Together, all the accomplishments highlighted below have made my sixth year as secretary challenging, exciting, and most rewarding.
DCNR’s 2020 accomplishments are grouped by these goals:
I have no doubt 2021 will continue to be marked by outstanding DCNR employee efforts and continued valuable interaction with our neighbors, visitors, and partners.
Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and rewarding new year!
Cindy Adams Dunn
Secretary, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources