Thursday, May 31, 2018

PA Parks & Forests Foundation Forthcoming Report: Conserving the Legacy: The Future Is In Our Hands

The following summary of the forthcoming report The Legacy of Pennsylvania’s State Parks and Forests: The Future Is In Our Hands by the PA Parks and Forests Foundation was taken from the Summer Penn’s Stewards newsletter. (See the newsletter for additional charts and photos.)
In 2018, Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests celebrate their 125th anniversary.
Keeping in mind that these parks and forests were founded and developed through visionary leadership for the long-term investment in Pennsylvania’s natural resources and its citizenry, state elected officials and government administrators again have an extraordinary opportunity to provide needed and overdue resources to address the more than $1 billion in state park and forest infrastructure needs, which range from bridges to wastewater treatment facilities, from dams to invasive plant removal, and from roads to trails.
In July, the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation will release “The Legacy of
Pennsylvania’s State Parks and Forests: The Future Is In Our Hands,” a report funded through a grant from Richard King Mellon Foundation and donor support that examines the story behind the creation of Pennsylvania’s award-winning state park and forest system, and explores the needs that must be addressed to assure that what we pass on to our children and grandchildren is a legacy in which we can all be proud.
What follows, is a summary of the report. Visit [the PPFF] website for the full report in July.
Popularity Is Not Inexpensive
Research demonstrates time and again that our public lands are well loved and much appreciated by Pennsylvania residents, providing generations with fond memories, improved health, and opportunities for relaxation.
However, with that use comes significant wear and tear to the built and natural infrastructure, requiring maintenance and upgrades to keep our state parks and forests safe and attractive.
Changing regulatory requirements for public safety also create a need for infrastructure investments.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is one of the top state agencies in terms of the amount of infrastructure it manages. Maintaining and repairing that infrastructure requires resources – staff, funding, and materials – that have fallen increasingly short over the past decade.
Unfortunately, the money required for regular infrastructure maintenance, upgrades, and improvements has not kept pace with the need. In fact, money acquired from overnight stays in state parks had been invested back into maintenance needs in the past, but is now used to cover basic operations due to budget shortfalls.
Because of this lack of investment, we are losing the ability to maintain and enhance our 125-year legacy as a world-class state park and forest system.
Infrastructure Requires Routine Rehabilitation and Upgrades
Pennsylvania’s state park and forest infrastructure repairs and maintenance needs are funded through multiple funding sources including allocations from the General Fund, the Oil and Gas Lease Fund, the Key 93 Fund [Keystone Fund], the Environmental Stewardship Fund, and, when available, park user fees.
However, these funding streams have been insufficient, resulting in an accumulation of projects that are deferred, which often results in greater costs down the road.
Philanthropic donations, volunteer assistance, and other sources help supplement General Fund allocations, but ultimately the condition of our state parks and forests depends on the Pennsylvania General Assembly to recognize and abide by their civic duty to provide and maintain public open space in a manner that ensures human safety and provides for future generations.
DCNR’s budget is just one half of one percent of the annual Pennsylvania state budget. In recent years, General Fund allocations to DCNR have been reduced and the balance supplanted with funds from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund and revenue generated from overnight stays and other user fees.
Lack of predictable funding hinders long-term planning and forces reallocation of funds away from maintenance and innovation into general operations.
With the significant amount of buildings, roads, bridges, dams, and other structures within our state parks and state forests, routine maintenance is a daily task.
Water and sewer lines, as well as treatment facilities, need to be upgraded to meet new regulations, roofs worn by time need to be repaired or replaced, roads need to be resurfaced, campsites need to be mowed, and fences need to be mended or removed.
Infrastructure Involves More Than Built Structures
Typically, infrastructure refers to buildings and roads, but state parks and forests include natural infrastructure as well.
This includes cutting trees, controlling invasive species, collecting seeds, and planting seedlings, among other tasks.
Maintaining natural infrastructure is an integral part of what DCNR does and from which all Pennsylvanians benefit.
Long-Term Investments Promote Quality Communities & Job Creation
Every dollar invested in our state parks and forests brings multiple benefits to the communities that surround them.
In a 2012 study, for instance, the return on taxpayer investment in our state parks alone was estimated at nearly $12.41 for every $1 invested. With more than 41 million visitors to our state parks in 2016, that accounts for considerable economic stimulation and jobs created and/or retained.
Our state park and forest resources also provide benefits through the environmental functions that they perform such as water filtration, air quality improvement, and flood control. They improve quality of life and housing values, and provide opportunities for recreation-based employment.
In fact, Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation for outdoor recreation spending!
What Pennsylvanians Want
Through various surveys and polls, the same comments are made year to year: Pennsylvanians want outdoor recreation opportunities at state parks and forests that are safe, clean, and well-maintained.
For instance, the most recent State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) states that maintenance of existing park and recreation areas continues to be the top concern and priority for both citizens and recreation providers.
Well-maintained trails and clean restrooms are especially important to visitors.
SCORP and census data supports the fact that the face of Pennsylvania is changing, with residents becoming older and more diverse. With these changes, come new recreational needs and adaptations in order to remain relevant and accommodating.
The 2014-2019 SCORP priorities recognize the important role Pennsylvanian’s assign to outdoor recreation – that role being improving human health. The SCORP plan was developed after extensive input from Pennsylvania residents, who consistently support investment in state park and forest maintenance.
Working Together to Find a Solution
“The Legacy of Pennsylvania’s State Parks and Forests: The Future Is In Our Hands” presents an opportunity to provide major investments to our state parks and forests. These commitments also invest in our local economies and the economic engine that is outdoor recreation.
It creates a quality of life that makes Pennsylvania a great place to live, work, and play, keeping us competitive on the national front for job creation, employee retention, and attracting new businesses.
Pennsylvania stands at a critical juncture between handing our children a legacy of state parks and forests in which we can all be proud and strapping them with a burden from which they will struggle to recover.
An opportunity exists to look for a solution to address the most pressing infrastructure repair needs in the treasures that are Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests.
While volunteers and private philanthropy are making a difference, the needs of our state parks and forests require an investment by the state through adequate operational funding for DCNR, for adequate staffing for state parks and forests, and for dedicated infrastructure funding.
Visit [the PPFF] website for the full report in July.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Parks & Forests Foundation website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Foundation,  Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.  Click Here to become a member of the Foundation.
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