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Benefit Communities and Citizens Through Investments in Conservation and Recreational Resources

The major DCNR accomplishments of 2022 to benefit communities and citizens through investments in conservation and recreational resources are listed below.

Record-Breaking Year for Recreation Investments

The DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation was the driving force behind Governor Wolf’s record-breaking announcement of $90 million in more than 330 projects across Pennsylvania that will create new recreational opportunities, conserve natural resources, and help revitalize local communities.

The funding will help rehabilitate 106 local parks, build 36 new parks, and construct 54 miles of trails. The grants will also protect over 7,000 acres of open space for outdoor recreation and critical habitat and will fund the establishment of 214 acres of streamside forest buffers.

DCNR also held a unique fall grant round thanks to one-time funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Banner Year for Trails

Last year was a huge year for trails, and nowhere shows the impact of that work like Lancaster County. 2022  saw the completion of the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail, a 14-mile multi-use trail along the Susquehanna River.

In the county’s southern half, the Enola Low Grade Trail now has 20+ miles of continuous multi-use trail thanks to the completion of two of Pennsylvania’s Top Ten Trail Gaps: the Safe Harbor and Martic Forge bridges.

Recent articles in Lancaster Online heralded the trails as economic drivers in the county. New restaurants and other businesses are opening along the trails in communities like Columbia and Marietta.

A large bridge carries a rail trail next to a large river. People stand and walk around the trail and in a pavilion.
DCNR celebrates the opening of the Safe Harbor bridge along the Enola Low Grade Trail in Lancaster County

ATV Regional Connector Pilot

DCNR managed the ATV Regional Connector Pilot trail system in Susquehannock and Tioga state forests. ATV enthusiasts were again able to access PennDOT-administered roads and state forest roads that help in myriad ways including, connecting communities, businesses, and other points of interest within the 200-mile system. 

DCNR issued more than 1,000 pilot riding permits this year, with minimal incidents. DCNR is currently investigating other connecting opportunities for 2023.

Public Picks Top Trail

The Delaware Canal State Park Towpath was named Pennsylvania’s 2022 Trail of the Year. The 58.9-mile Delaware Canal State Park Towpath passes through 18 municipalities in Bucks and Northampton counties. 

The towpath, where the mules once trod pulling canal boats along the Delaware Canal, provides a level trail for walking, jogging, biking, and horseback riding. Boat accesses allow for canoeing and kayaking. 

In winter, ice skating and cross-country skiing are also popular along the towpath and canal. The Towpath is part of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, which is 165 miles long and traverses five counties in eastern Pennsylvania. The Towpath is in the Lehigh Valley Greenways and Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape.

Two people ride bikes on a path next to a canal surrounded by trees and plants. Water fills the canal.

… And Favorite Waterway

Pennsylvanians picked French Creek as the state’s 2022 River of the Year. French Creek is one of the most biologically diverse waterways of its size in the United States, meandering 117 miles from its headwaters in southern New York through four Pennsylvania counties to the Allegheny River. 

The creek is home to 27 species of freshwater mussels, more than 80 species of fish, and numerous waterfowl and songbird species, including bald eagles and four Audubon-designated Important Bird Areas. French Creek is also home to the Eastern Hellbender, the largest species of salamander in North America and the official amphibian of Pennsylvania.

A creek flows past rocky shores lined with trees and plants during the summer.

Conservation Landscapes -- Regional Approaches

Highlights from each Conservation Landscape in 2022 include:

Kittatinny Ridge

Carbon County residents passed a $10 million open space bond referendum by 82 percent, one of the highest votes of approval in Pennsylvania history. Partners started building conservation momentum in Carbon County in 2018 with a Return on Environment report that showed natural assets in the county are worth $800 million dollars per year. 

Supported unanimously by the county commissioners, the report catalyzed a strong partnership between a diverse set of county officials, offices, conservation non-profits, businesses, and residents.

Laurel Highlands

In October, the Laurel Highlands hosted the Conservation Landscape Statewide gathering. Time was split between engaging planning exercises and site visits Participants met with partners including at Fort Necessity and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy at Fallingwater.

Lehigh Valley Greenways

DCNR and the commonwealth announced $7 million in grants to progress the D and L Trail in the Lehigh Valley. Most of the funds will be used to close trail gaps in Catasauqua, Hanover Township, and Allentown, providing 140 miles of continuous trail from Bristol, Bucks County, to Mountain Top, Luzerne County, when complete. 

Remaining funds awarded to Lehigh County will be used to acquire the D and L Trail alignment on the western side of the Lehigh River.

Pennsylvania Wilds

The past year was all hands-on deck to respond to the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge. On behalf of the Conservation Landscape, and in coordination with several regional partners including DCNR, the PA Wilds Center applied to the two-phased program. The PA Wilds Center project became one of 60 total finalists throughout the United States selected. 

The PA Wilds submission was the only project based around the quickly growing outdoor recreation economy, and it was one of the few projects that invested in a rural region. Ultimately, the PA Wilds Center’s application was not chosen. However, this year-long process helped establish a strategic vision and activation plan for the landscape as well as deepen relationships among regional partners. 

The center and its partners are using this momentum to tee up a number of different funding applications in 2023 to keep this generational work moving forward.

Pocono Forest and Waters

Beginning in 2021, the Pocono Forest and Waters Conservation Landscape hired Relevant Strategies and  Solutions to conduct a strategic planning process. In 2021 and 2022, it worked with the consultant and partners and stakeholders to develop the plan that will guide the landscape over the next three to five years. 

In 2022, the partnership began implementing several recommendations of the plan. Landscape partners also recalibrated the steering committee to include representatives from organizations that provide expertise and are more reflective of new vision and goals.

Schuylkill Highlands

A $6 million, four-mile section of the Schuylkill River Trail in Chester County was completed south of the Rt. 422/Schuylkill River bridge near Pottstown, along with a new DCNR funded trail head at Frick’s Lock Park in East Coventry Township. 

A new bridge was constructed over Hay Creek in Birdsboro, Berks County, providing a trailhead to access to the 1800-acre Birdsboro Waters Authority recreational area that was protected through the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Legacy Program. 

Schuylkill Highlands trust partners protected a significant acreage, including land that was transferred to French Creek State Park and State Game Lands Number 157, which adjoins Nockamixon State Park.

South Mountain

For the first time, the South Mountain Partnership moved its annual celebration event to the autumn and refocused content and location on centering attendees in the region and celebrating the bounty of the conservation landscape. 

The 12th Annual “Power of the Partnership” Celebration was a resounding success with more than 115 people gathered from throughout the landscape for the only regional event celebrating the efforts to protect and promote the landscape. 

Thanks to local private funds raised by the Friends of the South Mountain Partnership, South Mountain Partnership launched a new grant program called the “Flex Grant Program” that offers small-scale funding for projects not traditionally eligible for DCNR mini-grants and prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Susquehanna Riverlands 

The Susquehanna Riverlands helped permanently conserve 1,908 acres of natural and agricultural land in 2022. Significantly, this includes the 1,044-acre Susquehanna Riverlands State Park, one of three new state parks designated by Governor Wolf in 2022. 

Situated in Hellam Township, York County where Codorus Creek flows into the Susquehanna River, this new park protects critical water and forest resources.