July is Park and Recreation Month in Pennsylvania. As many Pennsylvanians head outside to parks, pools, and playgrounds, there’s no better time to celebrate the state’s many outdoor opportunities -- and the people who make them possible.
Outdoor Recreation Is an Essential Part of Pennsylvania
Outdoor recreation is incredibly popular in Pennsylvania. That comes as no surprise. The outdoors are in our name. Pennsylvania, after all, means “Penn’s Woods.”
In every part of Pennsylvania, outdoor recreation is woven into the fabric of the state:
- Pennsylvania has more than 6,200 parks and five million acres of land open to the public
- A survey for the state’s outdoor recreation plan found that nine in 10 Pennsylvanians take part in outdoor recreation activities at least once a year
- Research from the Trust for Public Land has found that more than half of Pennsylvanians live within a 10-minute walk of a park, trail, or public open space
The benefits of these places -- and the people who maintain them -- are well known. They support thriving economies. They boost physical and social health. And they help bring people and communities together.
All those opportunities add up to big impacts for Pennsylvania communities. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (PDF) reports that outdoor recreation adds $12 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy annually. Outdoor recreation also provides the equivalent of 150,000 full-time jobs.
How DCNR Supports Local Parks
Local parks make up less than 10 percent of public land in Pennsylvania. But surveys repeatedly find that these close-to-home parks are the places Pennsylvanians visit most often for outdoor recreation.
Building new parks and renovating existing ones are both expensive. DCNR’s Community Parks and Recreation grants help local communities plan, build, and rehabilitate their local parks.
In 2021 alone, DCNR grants contributed to:
- 59 park renovations
- 44 new parks
- 23 park plans
Most local park grants get funded through the Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund, the largest single source of DCNR grants.
The Keystone Fund has been critical in expanding close-to-home recreation access in Pennsylvania. Since 1993, DCNR has awarded nearly $250 million in Keystone Fund grants to more than 2,500 local park and recreation facilities. That’s 40 percent of all local parks in Pennsylvania!
To see places in your area that have benefited from Keystone Fund grants, check out the Keystone Fund Projects Viewer web map.
Encouraging the Next Generation of Park and Recreation Professionals
A crucial part of maintaining Pennsylvania’s open spaces is getting the next generation excited about careers in parks and recreation.
DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation regional advisor Drew Gilchrist recently did just that. He invited two high school students from Perkiomen Valley High School in Montgomery County to shadow him and learn more about what park and recreation professionals do.
The students, Cristina Martinez and Riya Stringari, spent two days visiting local conservation and recreation projects and meeting the many partners who keep them going.
On the first day, they visited Bethany Hare, Park Manager at the Evansburg/Fort Washington State Park Complex. They also met with staff from the Schuylkill River Greenways Association, Althouse Arboretum, and DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry to learn about each organization.
The second day included stops at Green Lane Park, Fulshaw Craeg Preserve, and the Schuylkill River Trail.
Throughout the two days, Cristina and Riya heard from park and recreation professionals not only about the work they do, but the journeys that led them to the jobs they now hold.
When asked what their takeaways were from the visits, both students noted that the path to a career can be a roundabout one. You need to stay focused but be willing to be flexible when circumstances change, or opportunities arise. Good advice!
Giving Thanks for Our Outdoor Opportunities
As valuable as Pennsylvania’s parks and public lands are, they don’t maintain themselves. The commonwealth’s amazing outdoor recreation opportunities owe a lot to the thousands of park and recreation employees who keep these facilities clean, safe, and ready to use.
Recreation directors, environmental educators, land managers, grounds crews, rangers, and so many more all contribute to the world-class outdoor recreation Pennsylvania offers.
Thank you to all the park and recreation professionals who care for our amazing outdoor resources!