This letter was sent to the members of the House and Senate Tuesday morning on behalf of Marci Mowery, President of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and Davitt Woodwell, President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council in opposition to House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler)--
Dear Members Of The House and Senate,
House Bill 2013 has been amended. Even with that amendment, the bill represents a frontal assault on Pennsylvania’s state park system and the reasons that it has been so successful.
The parks are not broken – they are award-winning, generate over a billion dollars a year in economic activity, and return over $12 for every dollar invested. Those are twenty-first century numbers. Where the parks need help is in funding that the General Assembly has taken away from DCNR over the last ten years, specifically from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenues that were designed for such purposes.
With the amendment, the bill is now, marginally, less bad than it was before. The bill now calls for a study by DCNR to determine potential public private partnerships within the parks and for the agency to act upon that study. However, the language and perceived intent is to push for development and “pilot projects”
What the bill now does is tasks DCNR with performing a study of “additional recreational, lodging, and ancillary facilities” that might be developed “to the benefit of the general public.” This is, perhaps, discussion-worthy, except that the definition of those facilities still focuses on amusement or water parks, outdoor sports facilities (stadiums?), hotels, etc. Further, the bill focuses almost exclusively on additional facilities without considering what is currently in place.
Nowhere in the bill is it suggested that DCNR undertake a study or review of how the parks are working, how they measure up against other state’s systems, or what is really best for the parks and for Pennsylvanians. Nor is there any consideration that the defined uses may well be best located on private lands adjacent to state parks as so many businesses are today.
If the purpose is really to understand the role of the state parks and what development is or is not appropriate in them, then call for DCNR to do a thorough review of the park system, its strengths, challenges, and opportunities, as well as the needs of the people. Such a study would serve everyone well and provide a real basis for consideration of any development of any type in the parks as well as the state of current concessions and leases.
This would also give an opportunity to involve the public in the discussion, something required by the General Assembly in almost every other DCNR action involving state lands. And, .of special concern given ongoing fiscal issues at the state, such a process would daylight any and all fiscal issues related to development.
Considering the array of awards bestowed upon the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources for management and planning, it is easy to argue that our state parks are not only fully in the 21st century, they are leading the way. The state parks are not lands that time forgot, but they do need to be considered differently from most applications of public-private partnerships where the outcomes can be more easily monetized.
President, Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation
President, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
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