By Tim Herd, Executive Director, PA Recreation & Park Society, a member of the PA Growing Greener Coalition.
This summer, millions of adults and children alike will head to a state or local park to enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of the wide range of recreational opportunities Pennsylvania has to offer.
Families will hike the miles of trails that span the state, stopping for a swim and picnic as they marvel at a bald eagle soaring overhead.
Young children will race to playgrounds to swing on the swings and slide on the slides as their older siblings play a pickup game of basketball on the nearby court.
Communities will enjoy barbecues and concerts under the stars as they gather together and turn their local park into their collective backyard.
July is National Park and Recreation Month, and as scenes like these play out across the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Growing Greener Coalition is working to ensure that residents and visitors continue to have access to parks and recreational opportunities well into the future.
The Coalition, which is the largest coalition of conservation, recreation and preservation organizations in Pennsylvania, has called upon Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature to provide adequate funding for conservation, recreation and preservation projects by investing in a Growing Greener III initiative.
Since its inception in 1999, the state’s Growing Greener program has funded hundreds of local parks and trail projects, conserved more than 50,000 acres of threatened open space and protected hundreds of miles of streams and waterways.
However, funding for Growing Greener has decreased from an estimated average of $200 million in the mid-2000s to approximately $50 million this year. That is a 75 percent cut.
In the last two budgets alone, communities and nonprofit organizations like the Pennsylvania Recreation & Park Society have lost a total of more than $30 million in state funding for critical projects and programs.
Pennsylvania needs to be doing more, not less, to protect its parks, trails and open spaces and to keep its waterways clean.
Parks and recreational opportunities are essential services that offer tremendous benefits by:
-- Improving health and wellness;
-- Providing a refuge from busy lives and a community commons that connects people to nature and each other;
-- Creating more desirable communities and a sense of place;
-- Increasing property values and municipal tax revenues;
-- Protecting open space; and
-- Increasing tourism and visitor spending.
In Pennsylvania, recreation is the third most profitable industry in relation to tourism (behind transportation and food and beverage services), generating roughly $6.4 billion in spending, according to Pennsylvania’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.
However, the need for increased investment in our parks and recreational areas is as real as the value that parks and recreation contribute to our communities.
The state has more than 5,700 local parks and more than 11,000 miles of trails, most of which were created in the 1960s and ’70s and are in significant need of upgrades.
Many of the 900 public fishing and boating access areas are suffering from deferred maintenance or are closed because they are unsafe.
Further, more than 19,000 miles of streams and waterways are designated as impaired and are in need of cleanup.
Investments in parks, recreation and clean water through Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener program have long enjoyed bipartisan public support.
A 2014 survey associated with the state’s Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan found that a majority of respondents believe the state should increase its permanent source of funding for park and recreation opportunities based on tax revenues.
Respondents also indicated a majority of this money should be reinvested into improvements of existing park and recreation areas, along with conserving lands and protecting wildlife and fish habitat.
Additionally, a 2015 Penn State poll found that 90.7 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed would support increasing state funds to conserve and protect open space, clean water, natural areas, wildlife habitats, parks, historic sites, forests and farms.
There is little question that Pennsylvanians value the opportunities and benefits associated with the state’s local parks and recreational areas.
As we celebrate National Parks and Recreation Month, it is important to remember that in order to protect these opportunities and benefits for future generations, we need to invest in them today.
Tim Herd is Executive Director of the PA Recreation & Park Society, a member of the PA Growing Greener Coalition.
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