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Economic Impact Spotlight: State Parks and Forests -- Economic Drivers in Rural Areas

January 13, 2021 12:00 AM

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​Pennsylvania’s state parks and forestlands draw more than people. They draw jobs. Lots of jobs.

Just ask employees of the Berlin-based Darr Construction Co. Or, perhaps, workers with Leiblod Inc. in Pottsville, or K&K Plumbing Co. in Johnstown, or Keystone Lime Co. in Fort Hill.

Together, they produced a new maintenance building and ranger station that is the envy of state forest districts across the state.

New Ranger Station Draws Praise

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At least in the eyes of Forbes State Forest Assistant Manager Don Stiffler:

“The previous building was merely a shop and some small ranger offices -- probably the worst ranger office in the state, but we did what we could with what we had,” Stiffler said. “But working with the contractor, and aware of the site’s old CCC ties, we opted for a simulated log-side cabin that ties in with that theme. Our ranger station went from worst to best in the state. For public contact, it shines.”

Stiffler, who oversaw construction of what may well be the highest office in Pennsylvania, had only praise for those with whom he worked on the site in the Mt. Davis Natural Area on the highest mountain in Pennsylvania.

“Facility Design and Construction’s Jamie Pritts and Scott Schaffer and the Darr Construction crew made excellent suggestions,” Stiffler said. “They wanted to be proud of their work and they did an excellent job. Darr Construction -- I can’t say anything but good things about those people.”

And, the contractor had similar words:

“Darr Construction Inc. is honored to have taken part in this beautiful structure; we are very proud as to how it turned out,” said President James L. Darr. “Working with everyone at DCNR both at the state and local levels was like being part of a team all working towards the ultimate goal of a well-built, functional, and beautiful building that can be used and enjoyed by all, well into the future.”

Infrastructure Improvements Highlight Work of Pa. Contractors

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Travel the state to our state parks and forests and you’ll find praise is not uncommon for the private contractor -- the men and women who erect the new buildings, pave the roads, repair the dams, and tackle a myriad of other projects on public lands.

And, there are many.

Value of DCNR infrastructure is more than $4 billion. It includes 131dams, 820 bridges, more than 4,800 buildings, 68 wastewater treatment plants, 172 public water systems, and 3,411 miles of roads. From all these holdings come one heck of a lot of jobs -- in repairs and construction, paving, roofing, culvert work, and so on.

Since December 1, 2019, DCNR has awarded about $37 million in construction contracts. It would be accurate to say DCNR typically executes $35 to $40 million in construction contracts each year.

Generally, the department spends $15-16 million in Environmental Stewardship funds; $24-25 million in Keystone funds; and $20-25 million in capital bond projects.

Of that $37 million contract sum, a total of more than $890,500 went toward construction of the Mt. Davis maintenance building and paving. The newly constructed building features simulated log siding and exposed glu-lam architectural beams at the entrance of the building.

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Also, the parking lot and equipment storage areas were improved with a small paving project. The parking areas were repaved and a few additional parking spaces were added to meet the occupancy requirements of the building.

With the Mt. Davis Natural Area being the highest point in Pennsylvania, at 3,213 feet above sea level, this project just might also be the highest construction project undertaken by Darr Construction.

About the Contractor and State Forest

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The oldest and largest multi-trade commercial contractor in Somerset County, Darr Construction Inc. is a family-owned construction business that was established in 1965 and incorporated in 1990.

Starting out as an electrical contractor, the business continued to grow and entered other construction fields, including general, plumbing, heating, and earth moving. Today, it encompasses the total range of commercial construction.

Forbes State Forest is named for Gen. John Forbes who, in 1758, ordered the construction of a road from Bedford to Fort Pitt for the British Army’s attack on Fort Duquesne.

The forest comprises 15 tracts totaling almost 59,000 acres in Fayette County, Somerset, and Westmoreland counties.

Forbes spreads across the high ridges of the Laurel Highlands, including the 3,213-ft. Mt. Davis.

Although the Forbes forest district encompasses Allegheny, Greene, Washington, Fayette, Westmoreland, and Somerset counties, all the district’s state forest land is found in the latter three.

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