Friday, September 18, 2020

65,000 Volunteers Contributed Over 584,000 Hours Maintaining State Parks And Forests

 On September 15, the Joint House-Senate Conservation Committee heard how 65,000 volunteers have contributed over 584,000 hours in the last eleven years to help maintain Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests for public use.

$16 Million In Volunteer Work

Marci Mowrey, President of the PA Parks and Forests Foundation, said there are 46 Friends groups and 15 additional independent groups organized around a particular state park or forest that provide volunteer services to that area.  [Read more here.]

The volunteers are doing work ranging from maintaining trails, clearing invasive species, funding playground equipment, repairing buildings, providing visitor assistance, to holding special events.

By the numbers their work looks like this since 2008--

-- Over 65,00 volunteers

-- Contributed 584,128 hours of work valuated at $16,094,360

-- Completed 2,239 projects

-- Held 1,529 special events attracting 1,158,355 visitors

“It is important at this point to state that when friends-or PPFF- is involved in a project, we are working along-side park or forest staff. The Foundation was never formed to supplant park and forest employees.  

“These amazing and dedicated workers are essential to the success of our parks and forests and we consider it a privilege to be able to assist them with our labor, ideas, and expertise.”

“In addition to projects, friends host a myriad of special events, from large scale events such as bluegrass concerts that attract over 8,000 people to smaller events such as a Dutch Oven Cooking class limited to 12 people. 

“Many of these events are offered during the shoulder seasons, attracting visitors during times that are traditionally slower in the park or forest. 

“In fact, October events have become so popular that several parks are now able to fill the campground until the end of October. This means more visitor spending in local economies and more tax revenue for the state.

“Attendance at these events varies based upon many factors, but over the past eleven years about 1.2 million visitors attended events hosted by friends groups.

“If we use 2010 multipliers of the average visitor spending per day, for local residents that would equate to $42.6 million in local spending, Pennsylvania resident campers $101 million or Pennsylvania residents staying in a cabin, $200 million. 

“Obviously these numbers would be higher for non-residents attending events, who often spend more money during a visit.”

“Over the past 11 years, friends have raised close to $4 million to reinvest in our state parks and forests. Often they are spending these dollars using local contractors or businesses, therefore not only investing in the public lands, but the communities near these lands.”

“For all the good that friends do, one of the challenges we face as an organization is the escalating cost of liability insurance and/or finding carriers who are willing to cover a complex organization such as ours. 

“For the past two years, we have attempted to switch our carrier as insurance prices climb and as our carrier drops more and more activities that they are willing to cover.”

“A second challenge that groups face is that our parks and forests and the Bureau of Facility Design and Construction do not always have adequate staffing to approve a project, and sometimes the delays take months to years, which adds to the cost of the project or threatens the funding. 

“It's an ironic twist of fate that volunteers could do more if DCNR were more fully staffed.”

Click Here to read Marci Mowrey’s entire statement and see his presentation slides.

Volunteers - Time - Money

Andre Weltman, Chair of the Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park which formed in August of 2010, said the group works to help out park staff and make the park better for the roughly 300,000 to 400,000 visitors it receives annually.

He started by noting visitation at the park, located in the southwest corner of Cumberland County, has been up 30 to 50 percent over last year due to the pandemic.  [Read more here.]

“In the ten years since the Friends group was formed in August 2010, we've purchased and helped plant numerous trees and other native plants to displace invasives; we bought two playgrounds and a swing set that park staff installed; we organize the annual First Day Hikes; and we raised $5,000 to install a protective concrete cover on the iron furnace which dates to around 1771.

“We coordinate with the park during Earth Day, National Public Lands Day and similar public volunteer efforts to improve the park. 

“We also promote educational programming, whether led by the park's Environmental Educator or our own efforts to teach and demonstrate the history of early ironmaking in Pennsylvania.

“Our biggest event of the year, though sadly not this year, is the Fall Furnace Fest held in October. It includes the famous pumpkin float and Legend of the Hairy Hand at Fuller Lake. Typically we have 6,000 to 8,000 or more public visits during the weekend festival.

“Some of our projects are pretty ambitious. Beyond simple trail maintenance, in 2016 we used a combination of DCNR prep work plus volunteer labor to assemble a SO-foot hiking bridge to reunite the two halves of Mountain Creek Trail. That project amounted to $35,000. 

“Now, we're almost ready to install a second hiking bridge to connect two park trails -- this bridge project is around $120,000, of which $70,000 comes from two grants while $50,000 is from the Friends own funds. 

“This time we are not constructing the 5-ton bridge ourselves: we're bringing in professionals. It's by far the largest and most complex thing the Friends of Pine Grove Furnace has ever done!”

“I want to call your attention to other ways we support our park. I never thought when I helped create our group that we'd be buying gasoline and paint and similar materials, but the park turns to us for help when it's more cost effective or faster for us to foot the bill on certain supplies... or when their budget gets abruptly frozen as happened for a while this Spring.”

“We paid $13,000 a few years ago to replace every single door lock and padlock across the park -- in a place with scattered buildings of varying ages, there was no simple key system and staff were always lugging around a heavy bunch of keys. 

“It's not something the public would see but we think it's made life much better for park employees.”

“I think our success also arises from the formula VOLUNTEERS plus TIME spent in the park plus MONEY. Let me speak briefly about that last piece, money. How do we fund all our activities?

“Our income comes from donations, selling firewood and merchandise, special events, and grants for specific projects like the two hiking bridges.

“We sell a really nice mix of merchandise in the park office and at special events, ranging from patches and pins and bumper stickers to hats, T-shirts, jackets, maps, and history books. Merchandise sales amount to over $10,000 annually.

“At the park campground, we sell $10,000 of firewood at $5 per bundle -- people love to have campfires even during hot summer weather. Having firewood readily available is a convenience for campers but also promotes use of wood sourced locally to avoid importing forest pests and pathogens from elsewhere. 

“We expend a lot of volunteer effort to cut and split logs brought to us by park maintenance staff when trees fall on their own, or need to be cut down for public safety.

“We hold a half-marathon and Sk fundraiser race each June which nets us $4,000 to $6,000... but we had to cancel it this year due to COVID-19.

“As we do our best to support the park, our Friends group always struggles to raise more money and get more volunteers -- we've been unusually successful but it's a never-ending task. I like to say that running a Friends group is like running a small business.”

Click Here to read Andre Weltman’s entire statement and see his presentation slides.

Could Not Be Done Without Volunteers

John Norbeck, DCNR Deputy Secretary for Parks, told the Committee, “The sheer volume and variety of projects and concerns tackled by the department's nearly 1,300 salaried and 1,400 seasonal staff each year could not be accomplished without the volunteerism efforts of the individuals, groups, organizations, and Friends groups that make up DCNR's Conservation Volunteer program.”

Norbeck noted between Friends groups and DCNR’s own Conservation Volunteers Program, 145,795 hours of work was donated in 2019 to complete 492 volunteer projects in state parks and forests.

Projects include trail maintenance, wildlife habitat improvement, interpretation and environmental education, campground hosts, forest fire prevention and protection, research, geologic mapping and more.

“Volunteers bring a wealth of knowledge, energy and talent to parks that can enhance programs, assist park staff, and play a vital role in the future of our park system,” said Norbeck. “Volunteering in a state park instills a sense of pride, interest and ownership in the park, supports the bureau's mission and helps our volunteers to place a higher value on these public lands.”

Click Here for John Norbeck’s statement.

Rep. Parke Wentling (R-Mercer) serves as Chair of the Joint Conservation Committee.

For more information, visit the Joint Conservation Committee website, call 717-787-7570, Like them on Facebook or Follow them on TwitterClick Here to sign up for regular updates from the Committee.

(Photo: Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park.)

Related Articles - State Parks & Forests:

-- PA Parks & Forests Foundation Launches New Protect Our Parks And Forests Website

-- Some Lawmakers Want To Charge You For Admission, Parking At State Parks As Pennsylvanians Rush To Parks To Avoid The Pandemic

-- PA Parks & Forests Foundation Opposes Effort To Reallocate Keystone Recreation Fund Monies At A Time Recreation Facilities Needed Most

-- PA Parks & Forests Foundation Urges Lawmakers To Oppose Freeze On Recreation, Conservation Funding Addressing Imminent Health Threats, Help Economy Recover

-- PA Parks & Forests Foundation Launches Campaign To Replace Fire Rings, Grills, Picnic Tables In Camping Areas During Unprecedented State Park & Forest Use

Related Articles This Week:

-- State, Regional, Local Outdoor Recreation ‘Through The Roof’ Across Pennsylvania

-- DCNR, State Fire Commissioner Warn Of Heightened Fall Wildfire Dangers

-- DCNR Announces Regional Virtual Grant Workshops For Recreation And Conservation Projects In November

-- DCNR Good Natured Blog: Hiking Off The Beaten Path, Lesser Known State Forest Trails

-- DCNR Good Natured Blog: Great, But Lesser Known Pennsylvania Trails

-- DCNR Good Natured Pennsylvanians: Bill Ritting, PA Trails Advisory Committee

-- DCNR Conservation & Natural Resources Advisory Council Meets Sept. 23 To Hear About Carbon Capture, Underground  Storage

-- Brandywine Conservancy Issues Hiking Through History Map Tracing Philadelphia Campaign Of 1777

-- Friends Of Allegheny Wilderness Host Oct. 10-11 Hickory Creek Wilderness Trail Stewardship Weekend

-- Manada Conservancy Hosts Sept. 29 Conservation & Health - A Vital Relationship Program 

-- September 16 Resource Newsletter Available From DCNR

-- Sept. 18 Take Five Fridays With Pam, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

[Posted: Sept. 18, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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