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Benefit Communities and Citizens Through Investments in Conservation and Recreational Resources

The major DCNR accomplishments of 2020 to benefit communities and citizens through investments in conservation and recreational resources are listed below.

New Statewide Recreation Plan

In September, DCNR officially released Pennsylvania’s new Outdoor Recreation Plan -- "Recreation for All" in Reading. The 2020-2024 five-year plan is a blueprint on how we can make outdoor recreation accessible to all Pennsylvanians. 

It includes five priorities, 20 recommendations, and 70 action steps to meet outdoor recreation needs of all Pennsylvanians. More than 8,600 Pennsylvanians provided input through an online survey. 

Outdoor recreation in the state generates $29.1 billion in consumer spending; $1.9 billion in state and local tax revenue; $8.6 billion in wages and salaries; and sustains 251,000 direct Pennsylvania jobs.

Projects Aided Throughout Pennsylvania

The DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation was the driving force behind DCNR’s announcements of 2020 grants across Pennsylvania that will create new recreational opportunities, conserve natural resources, and help revitalize local communities. A total of 267 awards were announced with $55.3 million in funding.

There were a total of 241 grants that were closed out in 2020 -- resulting in payments of $47.4 million that protected more than 4,300 acres, built or improved 41 miles of trails, and funded 159 acres of streamside forest buffers.

ATV Feasibility Analysis

DCNR revised its long-standing ATV policy to allow for expansion of ATV trails on state forest lands. The Bureau of Forestry responded by undertaking an in-depth feasibility analysis to provide strategic, regional trail connectors in ways that minimize impacts to forest resources and other uses.

Regional Approaches -- Conservation Landscapes

In addition to accomplishments in each of the eight Conservation Landscapes, DCNR also initiated an evaluation of the program that is now more than 15 years old.

A public report detailing the evaluation (PDF)-- including best practices for landscape-scale collaboration and success around the state, as well as recommendations for improving and sustaining the program -- was released in early 2020.

At that time, Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn noted Pennsylvania’s Conservation Landscape program’s regional focus and partnership-building approach is critical for meeting complex environmental challenges.

Landscape accomplishments include:

Kittatinny Ridge


This conservation landscape received a $10 million grant from the federal Regional Conservation Partnership Program for conservation efforts along the ridge. The grant will help fund conservation easements along the Kittatinny Ridge that will support climate resiliency for a variety of plant and animal communities.

Lehigh Valley Greenways

THE LINK -- an interconnected network of 125 miles of multi-use trails for Lehigh Valley residents and visitors -- experienced increased use in 2020 as individuals and families sought refuge in the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, Lehigh Valley Greenways and its partners launched a campaign responding to the increased usage and associated impacts:

  • Educating the public on the need to social distance while on THE LINK
  • Distributing bicycle bells to encourage good trail etiquette
  • Supporting partners with mini-grant funds for trail counters and bike safety checks
  • Using social media to promote trail-related businesses
  • Providing public updates on local businesses available for servicing equipment like bicycles
  • Promoting THE LINK to the public via billboards and social media
  • Increasing public relations coverage through newspaper, blogs, and recorded interviews

In all, the number of unique visitors to THE LINK website more than doubled in 2020 (to nearly 6,800) and Facebook followers increased fivefold, implying its message was reaching the public and helping to increase trail awareness, satisfaction, and safety.

Pennsylvania Wilds

2020 was a busy year for the very rural 13-county Pennsylvania Wilds Conservation Landscape, but perhaps its most important work was in supporting small businesses to deal with the impacts of the pandemic.

This included DCNR’s external lead partner organization for the landscape, the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, releasing a White Paper on the Early Impacts of COVID-19 on the rural Pennsylvania Wilds Initiative (PDF) to share results of the center’s outreach to its business network to capture what they were doing and/or needing to weather the crisis.

Following this, the center created a Facebook Live series entitled “The Wilds are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times” which payed small local businesses $250 to share their reopening strategies and other pivots to help cross-pollinate best practices and support a sense of community among the region’s rural entrepreneurs.

The series ran May-August; more than 20 companies participated. The series garnered over 6,000 views; reached an estimated 17,350 people; and led to more businesses joining the center’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In addition, the PA Wilds Center teamed up with The Progress Fund to help get the Pennsylvania Wilds region designated as a priority investment area under the statewide Small Business Assistance grant program, which targeted Main Street-type businesses and was funded with CARES Act monies.

A total of 111 small businesses in the region impacted by COVID-19 received relief under the program’s first round of funding; many others were funded through the final round.

Pocono Forest and Waters

The Pocono Forests and Waters Conservation Landscape’s major accomplishment for 2020 was planning and hosting the 2020 Eastern Pennsylvania Greenways and Trails Summit.

Originally, the summit was to take place over two days in Carbondale; however, the pandemic forced a change in plans to a virtual summit. Participating throughout September were trail and greenway professionals; state, county, and municipal officials, planners, consultants; and trail-users from eastern Pennsylvania. More than 200 attendees participated.

Schuylkill Highlands

Despite in-person meetings being ruled out, partners pivoted to virtual meetings and events. Who would have thought that kayaking and running races would go virtual? The creative minds of partners adapted throughout the year in surprising ways. Schuylkill River Greenways held the Schuylkill Sojourn virtually.

Natural Lands, in partnership with Berks Nature, purchased and transferred to the Bureau of State Parks 60 acres of high-quality mature woodlands in Cumru Township, Berks County, adding to Nolde Forests’ 665 acres.

South Mountain

Regional approaches are the most effective and efficient way to approach climate change. This led the South Mountain Partnership to highlight existing climate change planning and adaptation work throughout the region and to engage stakeholders in expansion and support of such efforts.

Successes included facilitating a virtual Climate Action Series with regional partners; signing-on as the community partner to Shippensburg University’s Campus Climate Commitment; and continuing to build a regional collaborative research and climate adaptation program.

These efforts provided over 300 organizations and individuals throughout Pennsylvania with technical expertise and resources to assist and engage in climate action and planning. Cumberland County Planning Department alone reported that 10 individuals volunteered to serve on the county’s climate action planning committee. 

Susquehanna Riverlands

The Lancaster Conservancy -- external lead for the Susquehanna Riverlands Conservation Landscape -- and its partners within the Stewardship, Access, and Connectivity Work Group have, despite limitations imposed by the pandemic, completed Phase 1 of an Integrated Land Management Plan for the landscape.

Well before its completion, this emerging partnership in land management already spurred several collaborations in response to COVID-19. The completion of the plan, slated for 2025, will result in development and implementation of comprehensive and functional natural resource and passive recreation plans for the Susquehanna Riverlands.

Laurel Highlands

The Laurel Highlands Conservation Landscape held three virtual events to educate partners and foster connections within the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first event, “The Impacts of COVID-19 on Nonprofit Budgets,” highlighted potential budget impacts such as reduced revenues from land transfers; shared insights based on working with municipalities after the 2009 recession; and offered strategies to mitigate and offset a reduction in revenues.

Second was a two-day Trail Summit that included experts who gave an overview of diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies to engage minorities in outdoor recreation.

The third event was “Climate Change and the Laurel Highlands” which included presentations on climate initiatives at the state level; strategies to impact policy; and the creation of habitat corridors for new and existing species in the landscape.

Highlighted Top Trail

A person rides a bike passed a metal sign reading: Trail of the Year Ghost Town Trail

The 2020 Trail of the Year was the 46-mile Ghost Town Trail cooperatively managed by the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority and Indiana County Parks & Trails. The trail is named for long-gone coal-mining communities once dotting the railroad corridor.

...And Waterway

Multiple people paddle kayaks down a calm river under a canopy of trees

Pennsylvanians picked the Lackawanna River as Pennsylvania’s 2020 River of the Year. Nominated by the Lackawanna River Conservation Association, it is a vibrant, cold-water “Class A” fishery in its middle and upper reaches, and a waterway that attracts more paddlers every year to northeastern Pennsylvania.