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Benefit Communities and Citizens Through Investments in Conservation and Recreational Resources

The major DCNR accomplishments of 2021 to benefit communities and citizens through investments in conservation and recreational resources are listed below.

Recreation Projects Aided Throughout Pennsylvania

Outdoors, kayak, water, people, boats, dock, trees

The DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation was the driving force behind Governor Wolf’s announcement of $70 million in 317 projects across Pennsylvania that will create new recreational opportunities, conserve natural resources, and help revitalize local communities.

The grants include 152 projects to rehabilitate or develop recreation, park, and conservation areas and facilities; protect approximately 4,400 acres of open space; 180 acres of streamside forest buffers; and 48 non-motorized and motorized trail projects.

Focus on Trails

Outdoors, path, paved, trail, nature, water, creek, trees

Working with local trail partners, DCNR oversaw the completion of grant investments across 28 counties, including:

  • $6.4 million to construct and rehabilitate more than 40 miles of trails;
  • More than $1 million to plan and design over 30 miles of new trails;
  • Helped seven priority trail gaps; and
  • Supported the acquisition of 9.5 miles of land for new trails.

In 2021, DCNR provided funding for more than 40 loop trails in community parks and eight projects addressing priority trail gaps.

Walk With a Doc

People, outdoors, walking, covered bridge, nature, trees, path, trail

DCNR coordinated Pennsylvania’s first-ever statewide Walk with a Doc initiative in September and October 2021. The initiative featured 40 walks with 40 doctors in parks and trails across Pennsylvania. 440 people participated in the walks. Plans are in the works to hold the event again in 2022.

State Outdoor Recreation Plan

DCNR and partners began working to implement Pennsylvania’s 2020-2024 Outdoor Recreation Plan.  One action step of the plan was completed in 2021 with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation publication of a comprehensive list of 180 iPhone and Android outdoor apps (PDF). DCNR supported the project with a grant. The statewide plan called for the creation of a guide of existing apps to help the public learn about and enjoy the outdoors.

Launch of ATV Regional Connector Pilot

The DCNR Bureau of Forestry opened the ATV Regional Connector Pilot trail system in Susquehannock and Tioga state forests. ATV enthusiasts were newly able to access 12 miles of PennDOT-administered roads and 14 miles of state forest roads, connecting communities, businesses, and other points of interest within the 200-mile system.

The bureau issued more than 1,800 pilot riding permits this year, with minimal incidents. The recreation section continues to work with the forest districts and other bureau program sections to monitor various aspects of the ATV pilot. DCNR is currently investigating other connecting opportunities for 2022.

Public Picks Top Trail

Outdoors, people, trail, running, event

The Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail was named Pennsylvania’s 2021 Trail of the Year.  The 38-mile trail is situated in the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Heritage Region, the Endless Mountains Heritage Region, and the Pocono Forest and Waters Conservation Landscape. The trail welcomes motorized and non-motorized users, including walkers, bikers, equestrians, as well as snowmobilers.

… And Favorite Waterway

Water, nature, outdoors, kayaks, boats, people, trees, river, creek

Pennsylvanians picked the Shenango River as the state’s 2021 River of the Year. The Shenango River winds 82 miles through Northwestern Pennsylvania, connecting Pymatuning and Shenango lakes with the Beaver River.

Conservation Landscapes – Regional Approaches

In addition to accomplishments in each of the eight landscapes highlighted below, DCNR implemented new reporting metrics for Conservation Landscapes. Metrics guidance was developed with significant input from CL stakeholders over a course of several months. The new reporting will be submitted in January 2022 and continue annually.

Kittatinny Ridge

The Kittatinny Ridge Conservation Landscape won the National Catalyst Award from the Network for Landscape Preservation Catalyst Fund to help support its efforts. The fund makes strategic investments in strengthening the collaborative capacity and process of place-based, community-grounded Landscape Conservation Partnerships -- building in landscapes across the country the enduring collaborative infrastructure and social capital that is necessary to achieve bigger and better conservation over the long term.

Laurel Highlands

The region completed the first phase of two-phase study to evaluate its natural resources and to understand what draws people to the incredible landscape to help galvanize support for its protection, restoration, and responsible tourism. Phase I of the study generated an Atlas, a series of maps including descriptions of the natural infrastructure and opportunities for recreation, preservation, and protection.

Lehigh Valley Greenways

THE LINK, an interconnected network of more than 125 miles of multi-use trails in the Lehigh Valley, is an ever-expanding project that serves its 675,000 residents and 1.5 million annual tourists. With more than 100 miles for future completion, 2021 was a particularly successful year in advancing the funding, acquisition, and engineering needed to build the foundation necessary to complete many of those future links - especially in 9 critical gap locations, including 3.5 miles of trail along the Allentown Waterfront which is part of an awarded US Department of Transportation RAISE grant. 

Pennsylvania Wilds

The Pennsylvania Wilds is a finalist in the Build Back Better Regional Challenge that opens the door for up to $100 million dollars in investment to grow the region’s outdoor recreation industry. A total of 529 communities across the country, representing all 50 states and five territories, submitted applications to the U.S. Economic Development Administration to compete for the transformative investments, which aim to aid in pandemic recovery. Only 60 applicants were selected to move on to Phase II. DCNR is a Coalition Partner working closely with others on this federal grant opportunity.

Pocono Forest and Waters: Wildlands Conservancy acquired the 2,700-acre Penrose Swamp Barrens in Carbon and Luzerne counties which was transferred to the DCNR Bureau of Forestry to expand the Weiser State Forest. This acquisition supported the Pocono Forests and Waters Conservation Landscape goal of conserving important natural landscapes and increasing access to public lands. Acquisitions of this magnitude are uncommon and showcase a direct correlation to the foundation of partnerships established in the region.

Schuylkill Highlands

Schuylkill Highlands trail leads added some major connections this past year. Four land deals permanently protected 312 acres in Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery counties in the Highlands region. Ida brought rain and extensive damage to the landscape, reminding us of the importance of land protection and stream buffering work moving forward.

South Mountain

The South Mountain Partnership’s spring meeting addressed how solar development can be done in a way that supports the region’s unique sense of place and quality of life, does not inhibit future sustainable economic development, and stewards our farmland, historic places, and natural and recreation assets; all goals that are shared by many residents, communities, businesses, and organizations of the South Mountain landscape.

This led the South Mountain Partnership to continue to act proactively to survey partners on what kind of action and next steps they wished to see regarding the issue. This spawned the “Solar Action Team”, an ad hoc group of interested partners who will be working to provide recommendations to help guide future solar planning and development for the region.

Susquehanna Riverlands

The Susquehanna Riverlands helped permanently conserve 2,092 acres of natural and agricultural land in 2021. One example is the Reist project, in which the Lancaster Conservancy preserved 270 acres in Lower Chanceford Township, York County. The conservancy worked with several partners -- including DCNR and the Farm and Natural Lands Trust of York -- to protect this beautiful, forested tract along the Susquehanna River.

It boasts connections to state parks, state game lands, a river trail, and the Mason-Dixon Trail. It contains Natural Heritage Areas of statewide significance and important riparian habitat. The conservancy is currently in the management planning process in advance of opening the preserve to the public.