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Citizens Have and Continue to Shape Pennsylvania State Parks

November 13, 2019 12:00 AM

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​From one state park in 1893, to 121 state parks in 2015, DCNR’s Bureau of State Parks has blossomed into one of the largest state park systems in the eastern United States -- comprising nearly 300,000 acres statewide.

Thanks to the work of inspired leaders and concerned citizens, these public natural places have turned the once “Pennsylvania Desert” -- from the boom of coal and lumber industries after the Civil War -- into a forest wonderland.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, the number of state parks grew from 50 to 111 as part of a goal of locating a state park within 25 miles of every citizen in Pennsylvania. In the 1980s, an ongoing effort was started to improve park facilities and to support environmental education and interpretation.

In the early 1990s, State Parks 2000 was the initiative that helped guide the modernization of state parks. This strategic planning effort called for:

  • The modernization of facilities
  • Expanding environmental education program offerings
  • Designating natural areas in parks to better protect sensitive or special natural resources

Now, 25 years later, DCNR is undergoing another planning process to guide the agency in caring for state parks for the next 25 years.

Challenges Facing State Parks


Strategic planning for Pennsylvania state parks is necessary to meet the evolving recreation needs and environmental threats to conserve these public places for future generations.

Pennsylvania state parks face a host of challenges, including:

  • Increased visitor carrying capacity at numerous parks
  • Threats to environmental resources from increasing large-scale public events to invasive plants and insects
  • Operating 121 parks with decreasing resources
  • Changes in public recreation interests
  • Facility improvements and additions with increased visitors
  • Changing population demographics
  • Impacts of climate change

The goal of Penn’s Parks for All is to address these challenges with the continued help of inspired leaders and concerned citizens.

Public Feedback on the Future of State Parks

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DCNR recently released a preliminary report gleaned from results of an extensive two-year survey seeking public input on the future of Pennsylvania’s state parks.

More than 10,000 respondents offered recommendations on how the commonwealth can improve the visitor experience.

“Commenting on everything from pets in campgrounds to trails and beaches, thousands commented on what they like, dislike, and hope to see someday in their state parks,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn.

The comments received from the public surveys helped shape draft recommendations on the future management of state parks. The recommendations address:

  • Improvement of outdoor recreation opportunities
  • Expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities
  • Protection of resources from recreation impacts
  • Offering of more active adventure activities
  • Expansion of overnight accommodations
  • Protection of parks’ natural and cultural resources
  • Financial support for state parks
  • Improved services and facilities

However, work still needs to be done with the report, and public help is requested.

Comment on Draft Recommendations

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Presented in the Penn’s Parks for All Preliminary Report (PDF) is a summary of results from the various surveys, along with proposed recommendations to guide the management of Pennsylvania state parks for the future.

DCNR is asking for the public to review the preliminary report share their thoughts with us about the proposed recommendations.
Public comments will be accepted online and in writing until Tuesday, December 31, 2019.

In addition, public informational meetings are being held in state parks across the state through mid-December to learn more about the initiative.

Comments received about the recommendations will be used to help shape the final report -- expected to be released next summer.

DCNR conserves and maintains Pennsylvania state parks for the benefit of all people.

Don’t miss your chance to let your thoughts be heard on how you think we can ensure the Pennsylvania state park system remains as relevant and valuable to future generations as it has been to current and past generations.

Additional information about the Penn’s Parks for All strategic plan can be found at the DCNR website.

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