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Ensure the Future of Conservation

The major DCNR accomplishments of 2020 to ensure the future of conservation are listed below.

Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps

People wear harhats and work clothes next

DCNR’s successful PA Outdoor Corps completed its fifth year of the program. The Outdoor Corps employed and trained 61 participants who:

  • Improved and installed 118 visitor use structures
  • Maintained 544 acres of land
  • Improved 2 miles of shoreline
  • Rehabilitated and constructed 89 miles of trail
  • Installed and maintained 3,911 native plants in Pennsylvania’s parks, forests, and public lands

Of the 61 participants in the program, 58 either completed the program or left in good standing (got a job, enrolled in school, or enlisted in the military) resulting in a 95 percent retention rate.

Adjustments were made to accommodate stay-at-home orders during the spring, with virtual learning helping to round out the adult crews’ experiences. The summer youth program was not held this year.

Every adult crew did one module exploring careers in forestry during the spring telework, as well as 10 professional development sessions. In addition, corps members acquired 194 professional certifications during adult member training and telework. These certifications centered around chainsaw operation, wilderness first aid, and wildland firefighting.

In 2020, eight corps members/alumni were hired into DCNR positions:

  • Five Park Manager Trainees
  • Two Laborer/Semi-Skilled Laborers
  • One Environmental Interpretive Technician
  • One Land Acquisition Specialist within the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation

The Outdoor Corps completed projects in 69 different state parks, state forests, and public lands in 2020. 

People kneel on the ground contructing a trail through a grassy corridor

Highlights include:

  • Rebuilding of the Turkey Path Trail at Leonard Harrison State Park, Wellsboro. Visitor-use structures at the PA Grand Canyon’s Turkey Path Trail were decimated by storm damage, making one of Pennsylvania most loved trails unusable.  The Williamsport Outdoor Corps Crew removed and reconstructed the destroyed trail stairs and viewing platforms.  
  • Resource Management Outdoor Corps Crew rehabilitated Civilian Conservation Corps buildings throughout the Laurel Ridge Park Complex, Somerset County.   
  • The St. Marys Outdoor Corps Crew replaced deteriorating decking, safety fencing, and cabling on a popular suspension bridge on Tom’s Run Trail in Cook Forest State Park, Cooksburg.

In addition to St. Marys, corps crews were based in:

  • Meadville
  • Pittsburgh
  • Greensburg
  • Uniontown
  • Altoona
  • Renovo
  • McConnellsburg
  • Williamsport
  • Harrisburg
  • York
  • Reading
  • Wilkes-Barre
  • Philadelphia

Correctional Institution Arboriculture Training Program

Hailed by a Wolf Administration official as “a fabulous example of silo-breaking in state government,” DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry continues partnering with the state Department of Corrections to train inmates with reentry job skills.

This fall, at the State Correctional Institution Forestry Camp, 20 men participated in the arboriculture and forestry training (Correctional Conservation Collaborative) hosted by DCNR. The program aims to build knowledge around career pathways in the natural resource conservation sector.

Climate Adaptation and Mitigation -- Charting Strategy Based on Science

A parking lot with trailsigns and kiosks is flooded by water

Heavy rainfall -- causing flooding and damage to state park and state forest infrastructure -- accompanies a continued warming of our climate. DCNR continues efforts to address these and other impacts of climate change:

  • By reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the ongoing impacts such as heavy rain, storm damage, and flooding 
  • Despite pandemic-imposed challenges, new solar arrays have been installed in state parks; climate change has been integrated into state park and state forest management plans; dams were removed; wetlands restored; and thousands have participated in virtual climate change presentations

DCNR also has significantly expanded collaboration on climate change with other organizations including academia, land conservation organizations, and national and international climate organizations.

The Bureau of Recreation and Conservation updated its grant criteria to reflect climate resilience and adaptations.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) played a crucial role at DCNR in a tumultuous year. Early in 2020, the DEI committee and senior staff held a retreat to reorganize, form new goals, and start implementation.

Action items of focus include continued employee training, designing an inclusive trailhead welcome sign, and more focused DEI work within bureaus.

Outdoor Programming Services/Youth Engagement

More than 85,000 people participated in state park educational programs, including 15,458 who learned archery, kayaking, snowshoeing, geocaching, and other recreational skills.

State parks offered 24 teacher workshops on songbirds, watersheds, hiking, connecting preschoolers to nature, Project Learning Tree, Project Wild, Project WET, stand-up paddle-boarding, and climate change.

They provided 725 programs for 14,619 school students. COVID-19 restrictions on in-person programs resulted in 160 virtual programs offered to 3,537 participants.

Girl Scouts Love State Parks

Twenty-one state parks offered 27 in-person and five virtual programs as part of the second annual Girls Scouts Love State Parks weekend. Through programing efforts, more than 600 girls and their families were introduced to Pennsylvania state parks.

Staying Connected

To inform and engage with citizens, DCNR uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media accounts to interact with more than 224,000 followers and friends.

During the pandemic, digital outreach became an important part of the department’s efforts to share information about how to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors, what was open and closed, and leaving no trace to limit the impacts to natural resources from increased use.

DCNR added thousands of new followers across the department and state parks social media accounts, including seeing spikes in the audience reach and engagement (liking and sharing posts and asking questions). During the last week of March, a post about state parks being impacted by the increase in users and showing photos of trash from Nolde Forest reached more than 1.2 million people. The park reported a number of people contacting them asking if they could assist with litter pickup.

DCNR also saw an increase of 7.5 million users/visits to its website in 2020 over the previous year, including more than 4 million new users.

Legislative Affairs

The secretary and deputy secretaries testified at hearings about outdoor recreation during the pandemic, explaining the crucial role of state parks and forests in helping Pennsylvanians stay mentally and physically healthy during such a difficult time. They also emphasized the major economic impact of outdoor recreation and DCNR-funded projects in communities across the state.

Over the course of the legislative session, DCNR staff tracked numerous bills and amendments and conducted rigorous analysis of more than 10 pieces of legislation that would impact the agency’s work, informing DCNR’s decision to support or oppose the bills.

Agroforestry Value Chain

DCNR’s Policy Office and the Rural and Community Forestry section of the Bureau of Forestry teamed up to conduct the first phase of a larger value-chain analysis to understand barriers in place that prevent Pennsylvania landowners from being able to bring non-timber forest products to market.

Understanding these barriers can help incentivize private and commercial landowners in the state, helping them understand market potential for native crop-baring trees and shrubs, in turn keeping forest land forest and incorporating more trees into the landscape.

This first phase consisted of a survey and focus group of several hundred landowners and farmers across the state. Results will inform future outreach and help DCNR create strategies around how to plant more trees with new audiences.

Bureau of Forestry 125th Anniversary

Despite the pandemic, the Bureau of Forestry celebrated this milestone with banner displays, social media infographics, and a short video. Bureau staff provided articles for the summer edition of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association magazine which was dedicated to this important observance.

Fall Foliage Communications

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The Bureau of Forestry responded to record interest in fall foliage, interviewing with at least 12 media outlets and providing comprehensive, statewide reporting for six weeks.

Favorable weather and an increased interest in the outdoors and close-to-home travel during COVID-19 increased the focus on Pennsylvania’s fall foliage season.