Enhance Stewardship and Management of State Park and Forest Lands
The major DCNR accomplishments of 2020 to enhance the stewardship and management of state park and forest lands are listed below.
Pennsylvania state park and forest lands have remained open and accessible to all during the pandemic for outdoor recreation that is important to mental and physical health. State park attendance increased from 37 million in 2019 to more than 45.3 million in 2020 -- a 22.4 percent increase.
Operational changes as part of the COVID-19 mitigation measures have occurred since March; however, since June, many front-line DCNR staff members have been at work assisting visitors and keeping parks and forests maintained.
The Bureau of State Parks conducted more than 150,000 interactions with customers since March 17 adjusting reservations, providing refunds, and notifying visitors of safety measures.
Adaptation to High Forest Recreation
During a year of unprecedented state forest recreation-use levels, the Bureau of Forestry developed internal site monitoring protocols and an interactive map to track visitor use. Special ranger patrols were organized and deployed quickly and effectively to ensure public safety and responsible forest use.
The Seven Tubs Recreation Area of the Pinchot State Forest near Wilkes-Barre saw thousands of additional visitors this year beyond previous summers.
This demand created many safety concerns and strained district and natural resources. Partnering with other state forest district rangers, state park rangers, PennDOT, and state and local officials, the bureau was able to ensure public safety while protecting this sensitive watershed.
State Park Strategic Planning -- Penn’s Parks for All
The Penn’s Parks for All Preliminary Report, released in late 2019, presented the results of the public surveys in 2017 and 2018, and offered a series of “Recommended Future Directions.” Public comments on the recommendations were solicited through early 2020, as was input from DCNR stakeholder groups.
More than 1,125 public comments were received. The development of a final strategic plan took place throughout 2020 with a planned public release in early 2021.
Climate Change Mitigation
Through sound, science-based management, the DCNR Bureau of Forestry maintained the health and resilience of the 2.2-million-acre state forest system, which resulted in the sequestration of an estimated 5.5 million tons of carbon.
Sustainable Forest Management
For the second consecutive year, the Bureau of Forestry successfully passed its dual certification audit. Under a modified audit format due to COVID-19, the bureau safely and effectively demonstrated its commitment to sustainable forest management under Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Forestry Initiative standards.
The Bureau of Forestry contracted for the harvesting of approximately 10,500 acres of timber on state forest land -- providing about $13 million in revenue for the commonwealth.
While helping to maintain forest health, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified timber harvesting programs that provide renewable wood products to consumers, supports local jobs and industry, and create early-successional forests benefiting wildlife.
Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP)
In 2020, DCNR was granted 31,494 DMAP coupons in 104 units in its continued effort to control the deer population in vulnerable and severely impacted forest tracts.
A total of 26 state parks enrolled in DMAP, totaling more than 100,000 acres; and 18 state forest districts were enrolled, totaling more than 1 million acres.
Protecting Visitors Health
In cooperation with the Department of Health, DCNR announced expansion of its free sunscreen program and listed 14 state parks where dispensers are now located. The effort reached an estimated 800,000 visitors to state park beaches and swimming pools.
The department also partnered with Department of Health’s “Young Lungs at Play” program in 2020. The program aims to eliminate children’s exposure to secondhand smoke at playgrounds and prohibits all forms of smoking and tobacco usage, including e-cigarettes and vaping, within 30 feet of all state park playgrounds.
The measure affects approximately 135 locations in Pennsylvania state parks.
Projects to maintain and improve the vast state park and forest infrastructure continued in 2020. Highlights of the projects include:
Delaware State Forest
The Pecks Pond Dam rehabilitation project in the Delaware State Forest was completed in early summer 2020. The pond has been filled to its normal water level.
Mill Creek Road Replacement, Loyalsock State Forest
Due to an intense storm, a one-mile section of Mill Creek Road in Loyalsock State Forest was destroyed. This highly traveled road was elevated to higher ground. The new road will result in less pollution, sedimentation, and disruption to the stream and riparian habitat. Three bridges were removed, eliminating some maintenance costs.
Higher standards of road construction and engineering were utilized so that the road will be less prone to damage. The project implemented retention basins to catch runoff and enable infiltration, decreasing ill effects on area streams.
Reconstruction of Beech Creek Road, Sproul State Forest
The Bureau of Forestry reopened Beech Creek Road in Sproul State Forest for public travel in October.
A section of the roadway suffered a large landslide in spring of 2019. Reconstruction of this corridor restores convenient access to an area frequented by forest visitors.
Hickory Run State Park Visitor Center
On October 19, a new Park Office and Visitor Center was dedicated. The high-performance center, with several green features, will serve as a starting point for equipping visitors for a variety of meaningful experiences at Hickory Run and Lehigh Gorge state parks -- enticing visitors to explore the parks' natural and cultural history.
Delaware Canal State Park Acquisitions
Two important acquisitions were completed in 2020.
- The David Library of the American Revolution (Buckstone Farm) -- 109.36 acres that will provide the park with a critically needed new headquarters location for park operations.
- Rose & Sol Feinstone Preserve -- 26.64 acres that adjoins the David Library of the American Revolution property and provides further recreational and open space lands.
Also at Delaware Canal, the $1.1 million Kleinhans’ (Fry’s Run) Aqueduct Replacement project and a $1 million Tinicum Aqueduct repair project were completed.
Shikellamy State Park Marina Building
The Shikellamy Marina building entered the first phase of its future repurpose with a partial demolition contract that removed failing portions of the building, reducing it to a concrete and steel frame structure.
The structure now is safe and prepared for design of a future public facility that will be a focal point in the park.
Turkey Path at Leonard Harrison State Park
Park and Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps staff removed damaged step infrastructure, and, working with a trail consultant devised plan, rebuilt the same section on the popular Turkey Path from winter storm damage in early 2020 that closed the trail.
Ohiopyle State Park Pedestrian Project
A large-scale PennDOT pedestrian/roadway project was completed in 2020 to include a pedestrian underpass; new bridge on Route 381; and improvements to parking and pedestrian walkways.
About 10.4 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) was resurfaced from Confluence to Ohiopyle in 2020.
Ryerson Station State Park Rehabilitation
Work continues with overall design and improvements. The swimming pool complex is 82 percent complete and is expected to be finished May 2021. Park amenities and stream restoration is at 60 percent design, with construction anticipated to begin in 2021.
The state-of-the-art project, coupled with major park campground renovations, and stream restoration design are direct results of public input and participation centering on the future of Ryerson Station.
Invasive Species Management Plan
State parks and state forest staff successfully completed a Statewide DCNR Invasive Species Management Plan and will begin implementation in 2021.
Invasive Plant Management
DCNR continued its effort to control invasive plants across the state. The Bureau of Forestry treated 600 acres of invasive plants in 2020 -- creating opportunities for native species to be planted or grown.
During the 2020 field season, eight new populations of high-priority invasive species were located and eradicated using Early Detection Rapid response (EDRR) protocols.
As of December 2020, 74 populations of high-priority invasive plant species that were originally detected from 2013 to 2018 in portions of the state forest have been eradicated. The EDRR approach limits the spread of high-priority invasive species.
Threatened and Endangered Wildlife Species Conservation
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, DCNR staff continue to work with partners to conduct surveys for threatened and endangered species like the Allegheny woodrat and the timber rattlesnake.
DCNR also is working with the Pa. Game Commission to improve habitat for woodrats by increasing availability of food sources. A woodrat habitat improvement project on Forbes State Forest project was completed in this year.
PA Forest Action Plan
The Bureau of Forestry completed its second PA Forest Action Plan, submitting it to the U.S. Forest Service in December 2020.
A requirement of the Federal Farm Bill, the plan sets strategies that guide federal investment, which in turn affects Forest Health, Forest Fire Protection, and Community Forestry and Stewardship programs.
Good Neighbor Authority Agreement
The DCNR Bureau of Forestry has an agreement with Allegheny National Forest to share resources and cooperate to more efficiently achieve common management objectives.
The Bureau of Forestry met the goal for 2020 by creating 31 fire effects plots in five burn units with completed pre-burn data on Allegheny National Forest.
Collaborating with foresters from Clear Creek State Forest and the Silviculture Section, Allegheny National Forest conducted two timber sales, as well.
Park Visitation Encouraged
Even in winter, First Day Hikes draw out hikers at our state parks. In 2020, Pennsylvania hosted one of their most successful First Day Hike events -- 55 hikes at 39 park locations and welcomed over 3,783 participants (along with 182 dogs) who hiked over 12,068 miles!