Friday, January 24, 2020

Op-Ed: Why We Support A Free State Park & Forest System

As we travel the state talking about the need to invest in the maintenance in our state parks and forests, we sometimes hear that the solution is to charge an admission or a parking fee. 
Well-meaning as the sentiment may be, here is why we don’t support that option.
First, our state parks and forests belong to the people of the Commonwealth and, as such, residents (and visitors too – who pay sales tax on services they purchase) are paying for said parks and forests.
Second, it is not cost effective to charge an admission or parking fee. Our parks and forests were not designed for this.  Some parks have as many as 32 entrances, including township or county roads that travel through park property! 
And think about the number of parking areas in a park or forest. Funds from setting up contact stations or monitoring parking areas would be used to implement the program, NOT address maintenance needs. 
Overworked staff would be set to monitoring and implementing the fee-based program NOT addressing other visitor needs and safety.
Third, even if fees did raise revenue, how long would that revenue remain with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for its needs? How long before the revenue was instead used to offset General Fund allocations to the Department? 
For example, the revenue generated for overnight stays and pavilion rentals used to fund maintenance. When General Fund allocations dropped, this revenue was diverted to operations. 
The [DCNR] Oil and Gas Lease Fund used to fund projects, but is now controlled by the General Assembly. 
The Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship [Growing Greener] Fund remain targets EVERY YEAR, despite being allocated specifically to meet the needs of state parks and forests, as well as community recreation.
Fourth, Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to their public lands, as set forth in the Environmental Rights Amendment--
Article I, Section 27: The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
Investing in our parks and forests is just that – an INVESTMENT – and it is the state’s duty to conserve and maintain them.
Outdoor recreation benefits Pennsylvania both from a human health view point and from an economic perspective. 
Consumer spending in outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania is over $29.3 billion, supporting over 219,000 jobs and generating more than $1.3 in tax revenue. People who spend time in the outdoors tend to be more active. 
According to the website Health Communities Healthy Future, the estimated annual health care costs of obesity-related illness are a staggering $190.2 billion or nearly 21 percent of annual medical spending in the United States. 
By investing in our parks and forests, we not only bring taxpayer revenue into the state and employ people, we can reduce health care costs, which can also lead to a reduction in sick days for employers.
Having access to the outdoors improves quality of life, which translates into attracting business and increasing housing values. 
Protecting our natural assets has environmental functions, from reducing stormwater impacts, controlling flooding, improving air and water quality, cooling the air, creating wind shields, lowering costs for treating and controlling water, and increasing creativity, healing time, and memory in humans.
For all of the reasons listed above, we support free access park and forest system and support general fund investment in our state parks and forests.
For more information on programs, initiatives, special events and how you can get involved, 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 TwitterClick Here to become a member of the Foundation.
For more information on state parks and forests and recreation in Pennsylvania, visit DCNR’s website, Click Here to sign up for the Resource newsletter, Visit the Good Natured DCNR Blog,  Click Here for upcoming events, Click Here to hook up with DCNR on other social media-- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Marci Mowery is President of the PA Parks and Forests Foundation and can be contacted by sending email to:

(Reprinted from the PA Parks & Forests Foundation website.)
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[Posted: January 24, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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