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Working on the Pennsylvania State Parks of Tomorrow

Tags: State Parks
December 21, 2022 12:00 AM

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DCNR has been hard at work implementing Pennsylvania’s plan to sustain state parks and make them welcoming to all since the release of the strategic plan Penn’s Parks for All (PDF) in July 2021.

The plan includes five categories of action steps to ensure generations to come feel connected to their state parks and have opportunities to learn and play outdoors.

Outdoor Recreation Opportunities

Celebrating the new Susquehanna Riverlands State Park.

The department is examining the state park system to better respond to public demand for outdoor recreation activities and to adjust to a shift in user interests and needs. Actions to date include:

  • In September 2022, Governor Wolf announced the locations for three new parks being added to the 121-state park system to create new recreational opportunities to meet high demand and to conserve nearly 3,500-acres of vital natural and cultural resources.
  • Land acquisitions secured more than 500 additional state park acres for hunting and several new stream-access opportunities for anglers.
  • In the Pennsylvania Wilds region in northcentral Pennsylvania, eight state parks now each serve as portals to orient visitors to recreational opportunities both within and beyond the park to expand their experience.
  • Ongoing work continues in the other seven DCNR Conservation Landscapes where similar connections with many state parks exist or are being developed.
  • As part of continuing efforts to improve outdoor recreation opportunities where interest is high, staff at Ohiopyle State Park in the Laurel Highlands have begun working with a local club to expand single-track mountain bike trails in the park by developing a large former strip-mined area into a new series of stacked mountain biking trails.

Overnight Accommodations in Pennsylvania State Parks

Friends and Family Great Gathering Site at Shawnee State Park.

To help meet growing demand statewide for all types of overnight accommodations, a variety of additions or improvements have been made, including:

  • Two new “Friends and Family Great Gathering Sites” sites were added to Shawnee State Park in Bedford County, to support the increase in larger social-group camping.
  • DCNR is drafting a concession lease agreement to try out glamping services within the French Creek State Park Complex in southeastern Pennsylvania with an anticipated rollout for the pilot program in 2023.
  • The very popular Ricketts Glen State Park in Columbia, Luzerne, and Sullivan counties added campground sites that include hookups for electricity, water, and sewer to accommodate growing demand for RV sites.
  • Lackawanna, Pymatuning, Promised Land, Bald Eagle, Locust Lake, Chapman, Moraine, and Ohiopyle state parks also are in the process of adding full-service campground sites.
  • Three walk-in sites have been rehabilitated at Little Buffalo State Park in Perry County for those visitors seeking a natural, more remote camping experience.

State Park Services and Facilities

Spanish language versions of the William Penn State Forest public use maps are now available.

Evaluations are underway at each state park to determine if there are barriers restricting park access or usefulness, particularly for new and diverse users, and if there are improvements that can better accommodate needs.

  • To help promote state parks as welcoming locations for diverse cultural groups, various materials and programs are being developed in Spanish for parks that have high numbers of Latino visitors.
  • Fact sheets and park recreational guides in Spanish are now available at Nolde Forest, Neshaminy, and Beltzville state parks, with many others underway.
  • Nolde Forest and Pine Grove Furnace also have started including translators for some programs. Park education staff are being trained on how to do programs with non-English speakers in their audiences and some are taking sign language training.
  • Transportation to state parks can be a challenge for some urban residents, so in 2022, the Bureau of State Parks began working with Montgomery County Planning to develop a trail connector from Fort Washington State Park to a nearby SEPTA train station.
  • Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County installed an ADA kayak launch in spring 2022, adding another opportunity for kayakers of all abilities to safely launch and enjoy paddling on state park lakes. Gifford Pinchot and Presque Isle will be installing ADA kayak launches in early 2023.
  • To support the growing need for managing state park’s digital and mapping information, three new positions have been added to create a Geospatial Information Office for the Bureau of State Parks.
  • State park agreements with concession operators are now including language designed to help minimize waste, reduce resource consumption and litter, and prevent plastic pollution.
  • Work is underway to hire six additional State Park Officers across the commonwealth to help deal with a variety of operational issues including increased visitor usage.

Conserving Natural and Cultural Resources in State Parks

Cultural Resource crew sifting.jpg
The Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps Cultural Resources Crew preforms archeological work at Ohiopyle State Park.

Responsible stewardship of the natural, scenic, aesthetic, and historical values of state parks is part of DCNR’s mission and is challenged by increasing numbers of visitors and environmental factors such as invasive species and stormwater runoff.

Actions to address these challenges are underway:

  • A Night Sky Policy for DCNR is being drafted to promote the enjoyment and viewing of the night sky at dozens of parks statewide.
  • An assessment is underway to determine each park’s level of “darkness,” based on the impact of surrounding sources of light pollution to the park’s environment.
  • Conservation partners aided state park staff in completing numerous stream, lake, and wetland improvements in 2022.
  • Stream restoration, including acid mine drainage mitigation and floodplain restoration, was accomplished at five state parks. Improvements to lake fish habitat and angler access was accomplished at 10 parks; and a large wetland restoration project has started at one park.
  • A new statewide aquatic biologist position was created in the Bureau of State Parks to assist in data analysis to better inform on critical resource needs and best practices.
  • DCNR’s cultural resources program was greatly expanded to include a year-round Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps Cultural Resources Crew that worked at many parks performing archaeological digs; cleaning and cataloging found cultural artifacts; conducting cultural resource surveys; researching park histories; and presenting public programs on their work.
  • With the creation of professional cultural resource positions within DCNR, an agreement was signed with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to delegate some decision-making responsibility to DCNR for improved cultural resources management; and a training program for staff across the state was launched to help state park staff improve their ability to be good stewards of the commonwealth’s cultural resources.
  • Pennsylvania’s dynamic forest system, being threatened by climate factors, is benefiting from several significant restoration projects.
  • At Laurel Ridge and Ohiopyle state parks projects including inventory, planning and direct management, were spurred with federal funding. Additional comprehensive inventory and planning are underway at four other parks.
  • Seven parks each added two new electric vehicle (EV) chargers totaling 14 new chargers for 2022, bringing the total number of EV chargers in parks to 38 locations.
  • In addition, two more electric motorcycles were purchased for state park ranger operations.
  • Mount Pisgah, Pymatuning, and Gifford Pinchot state parks each received a new photovoltaic (PV) solar array in 2022 and Moraine received arrays in two locations, generating an additional 505 kW per year that further reduces DCNR’s carbon footprint and utility costs. 
  • Two parks are now generating enough PV kW that they entirely offset their annual electricity needs with solar energy (Ryerson Station and Fort Washington), with similar plans underway for numerous other parks.

Paying for Parks

A large solar array shades parking spaces outdoors in front of a building surrounded by trees
New parking lot solar arrays at Ryerson Station State Park provide all the electricity needed at the park.

DCNR is working to reduce costs and improve efficiencies; pursue external funding; and respond to public feedback to increase commonwealth funding for state parks without any impacts on visitors.

  • Forty-four additional state park employees were trained in EnergyCAP, a software program that evaluates the energy usage of each meter in every park and can identify inefficiencies or equipment malfunctions, thereby saving money.
  • There were successes securing external funding to supplement appropriated funds for state parks: close to $800,000 in National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants were awarded to DCNR partners to support natural resource management work on state park lands; and a federal highway grant of more than $300,000 was awarded to resurface roads at Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County.

Pennsylvanians and those who visit are indebted to those who set the course for the state park system for the past 125 years. The Penn’s Parks for All strategic plan will continue to guide the work of caring for Pennsylvania’s 124 state parks, and welcoming and connecting people to them.

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