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​​​​​​​​​2023 DCNR Year in Review

This past year saw historic investments in recreation and conservation, and continued commitment from DCNR staff to conserve our natural resources and provide services to all.

Learn more about our notable accomplishments from 2023:

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​Supporting the Future of Conservation

​In 2023, there were 28 Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps crews with 181 participants across the Commonwealth.

​Crew members worked in more than 100 parks, forests, and communities.

Accomplishments include:

  • Improving 91 miles of trails
  • Planting almost 3,000 native trees and shrubs
  • Collecting more than 3,250 data points on cultural resources and artifacts
  • Improving more than 512 acres of lands/wetlands
  • Completing 431 skills courses and 95 certifications

Governor and First Lady Lori Shapiro both visited with DCNR’s Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps​ this past summer.

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During their visits, the Governor and First Lady shared their love of nature with the crews and personal stories of their own outdoor adventures and connections to nature.

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Did you know Presque Isle State Park in Erie is the Governor’s favorite park and the Pennypack Trail in his home county, Montgomery County, is his favorite trail?

​Supporting Local Parks and Recreation

​Governor Shapiro announced $52.5 million in grant funding for 225 projects across the Commonwealth last year along the South Bethlehem Greenway in Bethlehem.

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The grant-funded project at the site will help close one of our Top 10 Trail Gaps​ and is critical in connecting neighborhoods in the city to recreation.

Other notable points in this grant round include:

  • 23 trail projects
  • Protecting nearly 6,835 acres of open space
  • 13 projects for river conservation
  • 13 community and watershed forestry projects
  • 99 projects to develop or rehabilitate recreation, park and conservation areas and facilities

The grant awards are in addition to the planning, technical, and advisory support our Bureau of Recreation and Conservation provides throughout the year.

​Protecting and Conserving Penn’s Woods

Pennsylvania’s wildland firefighters had an extremely busy year within our borders and in their roles supporting wildland firefighting efforts across the United States.

In state, crews battled more than 1,800 wildfires, which scorched more than 9,100 acres.

​The largest fire this year burned around 4,000 acres and required shutting down parts of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension.

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Pennsylvania wildland firefighting efforts reached 50 years of service assisting with fighting fires in the western U.S. in 2023.

Crews were dispatched to Idaho and Montana this year.

Crews also assisted efforts in the eastern United States, including with a Virginia state of emergency-level wildfire situation in November.

In October, DCNR announced more than $880,000 in grant funding to support volunteer fire companies across the state.

DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry received two successful independent audits from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Forest Stewardship Council -- both of which noted DCNR’s work meeting and exceeding sustainable standards.

The Forest Stewardship Council went a step further awarding DCNR its 2023 leadership award for 25 years of receiving council management certification; and proving success across a wide range of forest conditions, multiple agencies, and evolving public expectations.

Management of the forests in 2023 included adding nearly 7,400 acres of state forestlands.

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That includes adding 2,500 acres to Pinchot State Forest with the acquisition of the Miller Mountain property.

Other notable news from our Bureau of Forestry includes:

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​Improving State Parks

State forests and parks received a big boost from infrastructure investments last year.

​Funding from the previous two years and a commitment from Governor Shapiro to support parks projects over the course of his administration have allowed the agency to move forward with critical projects.

Governor Shapiro joined DCNR in May to announce the completion of a major project at Lehigh Gorge State Park.

The department was able to complete 18 large projects totaling nearly $32 million in improvements across state parks during the year.

There are many projects in the bidding, design, and construction phase with more completions to come in 2024.

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DCNR announced an agreement in principal with Denton Go, LLC to operate and implement a four-season style recreational plan at Denton Hill State Park in Potter County.

This will help the department reopen the ski area, which has been closed since the winter of 2014 -- providing new economic opportunities in the region.

Other notable state park news for 2023 includes:

  • DCNR added a combined 128 acres to Big Pocono State Park, Boyd Big Tree, Pymatuning, and Susquehanna Riverlands state parks in 2023.

  • Our agency expanded free sunscreen offerings to 46 state parks, boosting impact of this critical initiative to about 2.6 million visitors in 2023.

  • State parks offered more than 9,100 programs attended by nearly 279,000 people. Within that total, 1,462 environmental education programs were offered to 68,460 school students.

  • Keystone State Park was recognized as the top fall foliage destination in the U.S. by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

Did you know Pennsylvania has some of the best fall foliage in the world​ because of the species diversity of the Commonwealth’s trees and large geographic area?​

​Building Momentum for the Office of Outdoor Recreation

Efforts to launch the Office of Outdoor Recreation included nine city listening tours that helped DCNR connect with new stakeholders, businesses, and other interested parties.

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Outdoor recreation adds $17 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy, supporting more than 150,000 jobs.

We at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources may be a little biased, but we believe there is room to grow the sector through:

  • Investments
  • Improving partnerships
  • Engaging with users who are unfamiliar with Pennsylvania’s wealth of natural resources.

​Natural Resource Conservation Initiatives

We began 2023 recognizing the North Branch of the Susquehanna River as the 2023 River of the Year.

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DCNR celebrated the prestigious achievement in June at Vosburg Neck State Park in Wyoming County. ​

The Wild Resource Conservation Program, administered by DCNR, awarded $291,000 in grants to conservation projects across the Commonwealth.

We also celebrated the addition of a new license plate honoring the Eastern hellbender in September!

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The Eastern hellbender became Pennsylvania’s state amphibian in 2019, a designation that promotes the need to restore water quality and preserve habitat for the amphibian.

Did you know the Eastern hellbender is the third Wild Resources Conservation Fund Plate joining the river otter and the saw-whet ow​l.

These plate supports the Wild Resource Conservation Program grant program, and it is a great way to show your affinity for conservation!

DCNR announced that the Mount Jewett to Kinzua Bridge Trail earned the 2023 top spot as Trail of the Year, which culminated with a celebration in August at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County​ with the Mount Jewett to Kinzua Bridge Trail Club, local officials, and friends in conservation.​

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​Strengthening Partnerships with State Agencies​

Last year was a strong year for partnerships with other state agencies.

​An effort with the departments of Health and Aging helped us highlight the benefit of getting older adults outdoors.

DCNR is developing a toolkit with these agencies to help ensure the Commonwealth’s older adults have connections to nature.

A partnership with the Department of Health continued with our annual statewide Walk with a Doc campaign.
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DCNR worked with the Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Downtown Center to award $210,000 in grants to assist in the development of Active Transportation Plans and increase physical activity by connecting local destinations with improved pedestrian, bicycle, and transit network.

DCNR held a ‘Hike for Healing’ at Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area to remind Pennsylvanians of the healing power of nature, particularly for individuals affected by substance use disorder, and that substance use disorder supports are available throughout Pennsylvania’s state parks.

The Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania Environmental Council announced the 100th well plugged under the Shapiro Administration at Hillman State Park.

The departments of Education and Environmental Protection joined with us to highlight Green Ribbon Schools to boost environmental literacy and sustainability across the Commonwealth.

We noted the importance of biking to work with PennDOT and York County officials​ to highlight the more than 2,400 miles of BicyclePA routes and an increasing focus on improving bicycling safety and access.
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​Expanding DCNR’s Reach Through External Partnerships​​

Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscapes and Heritage Areas made big impacts in 2023.

​This work is an example of agency staff collaborating and assisting community growth and development.

A top highlight happened in October when Governor Shapiro visited ​Kinzua Bridge State Park to announce new investments in various projects in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
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Other notable accomplishments in the conservation landscapes include:

  • The Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape held its Frontline Staff Training program so public-facing staff can now more appropriately respond to visitor needs, directing them to new experiences.

  • The Lehigh Valley Greenways Conservation Landscape completed a stream restoration project 10 years in the making that saw the removal of two dams along Bushkill Creek in Northampton County to enable freshwater mussels and fish to travel upstream into the Bushkill Creek from the Delaware River for the first time in more than 200 years.

  • The Kittatinny Ridge Conservation Landscape published a Conservation Plan for the Ridge, which frames a ridge-wide approach and action plan for to increase coordination and build a stronger partner network, expand outdoor recreation access, and support nature-based economic development in the landscape.

  • The Pocono Forests and Waters Conservation Landscape held its first DCNR Frontline Staff Training in 2023, fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing for DCNR employees and venue managers and enhancing the experience for visitors in the region.

  • The Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape developed its strategic plan to aid in driving positive impacts in conservation initiatives, supporting its wide network of partners, and establishing its position as a go-to resource for the conservation community.

  • The South Mountain Partnership developed the Commonwealth’s first-ever “State of the Region” project that includes a regional Report Card, GIS mapping, and final report that assesses the environmental health across county boundaries and recommends ways to improve it.

  • The Pennsylvania Wilds Conservation Landscape received $1.7 million in federal grants to expand programs that position the region as a premier outdoor recreation destination and to create new economic opportunities for its rural makers and small businesses. This includes standing up two more Pennsylvania Wilds Conservation Shops.

2023 Heritage Area accomplishments include:

  • The Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area completed a Kiski-Conemaugh Water Trail mapping update, including an updated map and guide in two sections; river town maps for access areas in key communities; a water trail management plan; and an updated interactive map.

  • The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor was formally reaccredited by the American Alliance of Museums for another 10 years, helping the Heritage Area recognize work that celebrates untold stories -- like a recent exhibit on women in industry and research uncovering more than 100 Black canal workers.

  • The Endless Mountains Heritage Area successfully nominated the Susquehanna River North Branch Water Trail as Pennsylvania’s 2023 River of the Year, welcomed a record number of kids to its Youth Heritage Sojourn, and began its National Designation Feasibility Study.

  • The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor awarded $30,000 in mini-grant funding to seven corridor nonprofits, and partnered with the Westmoreland Historical Society's Westmoreland 250 exhibition and the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Bedford’s exhibition on the Bedford Coffee Pot.

  • The Lumber Heritage Region developed a regional marketing plan to better highlight the attractions in the area.

  • The National Road Heritage Corridor received a highly competitive Wingspan grant from PA Humanities which aims to help Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and rural organizations committed to community-based humanities.

  • The Oil Region National Heritage Area made infrastructure improvements to the former Scheide House, which now functions as a cultural preservation center in the community.

  • The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area celebrated multiple accomplishments related to historic preservation and shared spaces, through mini-grant awards, collaborative programming, embedded community programs, and through partnering for a more creative economy.

  • The Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area officially opened the new Auburn section of the Schuylkill River Trail, which was a top priority gap in the state and connects two existing sections of trail to complete a 9.5-mile section connecting Berks and Schuylkill Counties.

  • The Susquehanna National Heritage Area expanded field trips and educational programming, increased visitation numbers at Columbia Crossing River Trails Center and Zimmerman Center for Heritage, developed a new exhibit on the Susquehannock People, and completed a another successful season of River Discovery Boat Tours.

  • The Lackawanna Heritage Valley National Heritage Area​ proudly hosted the 2023 Pennsylvania Greenways and Trails Summit and partnered with the Pennsylvania Route 6 Heritage Corridor to support nearly $250,000 in improvements to 24 businesses, non-profit organizations, and schools in Lackawanna County.

  • The PA Route 6 Heritage Corridor, in partnership with PA Humanities, supported additional planning efforts by communities to enter the PA Heart and Soul program​.  These communities include Etna, Venango Area (Cranberry, Oil City, and Franklin), Mansfield, and Port Allegany.  

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​Celebrating DCNR Staff

DCNR staff were exemplary leaders this year, with many receiving awards and acknowledgement for the incredible work they do for the Commonwealth.

​Assistant State Geologist Kristin Carter was appointed to serve on the White House Council on Environmental Quality Task Force for responsible development of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration.
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State Geologist Gale Blackmer was acknowledged by Governor Shapiro as an administration leader in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) during a National STEM Day event at the Pennsylvania State Museum to highlight women in various STEM careers and encourage girls to consider a future in STEM.​

Three of our rangers received Governor’s Awards for Excellence for saving the lives of two people on separate occasions as part of their duties at Gifford Pinchot State Park in York County.

We celebrated the graduation of 31 new rangers and park managers this year and we look forward to seeing the impact of those new leaders!
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​What’s Next in 2024?

We began 2023 with First Day Hikes across Pennsylvania, held Walks in Penn’s Woods in October​, and again held First Day Hikes to start of 2024.

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​Our goal this year is to Connect More in 2024, and we hope to see you all connecting with nature, self, family, and others on the trails this year.

In addition to our multi-faceted core work and day-to-day operations, our strategic priorities​ this year will be focused on outdoor recreation, climate resiliency, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.​​

Keep in mind that DCNR manages 124 state parks, 2.2 mill​ion acres of state fores​​t lands, and is tasked with conserving and sustaining Pennsylvania’s natural resources for present and future generations’ use and enjoyment.

This report only covers a fraction of the amazing work done by employees across the Commonwealth.

Thanks for reading and being a supporter of DCNR. We’ll see you in 2024!​