Tuesday, June 9, 2020

PA Environmental Council: Trail Use During COVID-19 Pandemic In March & April Spiked By As Much As 200%

On June 9, a report on land and water trail use issued by the PA Environment Council found trail use spiked as much as 200 percent during March and April over 2019 not only putting a strain on these resources, but also generating a newfound appreciation for these recreation assets.
A total of 74 trail representatives shared their insights concerning 67 trails, parks, and natural areas around the state. Trail counts for 33 locations validated managers’ reports. 
The Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail (Lebanon Co.) is one example. 
“Every day is like a weekend day now,” says Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails President, John Wengert, adding, “All of our parking lots have been full... and we have big parking lots!” 
An hour away on a weekend afternoon, a member of the project team visiting the Heritage Rail Trail (York Co.) had to try three different lots before finding parking. And the manager of the Hanover Trolley Trail, also in York County, reports, “The trail is busy all the time every day.” Similar stories exist throughout the State. 
Along with the uptick in visits, trail managers also reported new challenges including overuse and crowding, littering and illegal dumping, and delays in seasonal
While a majority characterized impacts as “mostly positive,” managers of long-distance “destination” trails reported more difficulties than their counterparts managing shorter, local trail routes. 
Negative impacts were largely economic, as trailside businesses primarily serving through-riders struggled with the abrupt dropoff in tourism spending. 
Despite the challenges faced, trail managers appear to be taking the situation in stride. Sixty percent of responding managers consider the pandemic’s short-term impact on trails to be mostly positive. 
Many share a collective hope that new and existing trail users will be more appreciative and supportive of trails after having found comfort and enjoyment in them this spring.
“When people started to flood the trails in early March, PEC staff had a conversation about what all of the people on trails might mean,” Trails and Recreation Program Director Frank Maguire said. “As PEC works to support more and better trails throughout the Commonwealth, this moment seemed to hold the promise of a new awareness of the power of trails, as well as a chance to further highlight ongoing concerns around limited access, delayed maintenance and confusion around trail etiquette.”
“These findings underscore how vitally important trails are, not just to Pennsylvania’s economy, but to the health and wellbeing of our communities,” Maguire said. “At a time when state and local funding for outdoor recreation looks uncertain, we hope decision makers will recognize that value and prioritize public lands and trails as a critical part of the economic recovery.”
Click Here for a copy of the full report.   Questions should be directed to Frank Maguire, PEC Trails and Recreation Program Director, 814-441-7865 or send email to: fmaguire@pecpa.org
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Environmental Council website, visit the PEC Blog, PEC Bill/Regulation Tracker, follow PEC on Twitter or Like PEC on Facebook.  Visit PEC’s Audio Room for the latest podcasts.  Click Here to receive regular updates from PEC.
[Editor’s Note: In the face of this increased use of trails, parks and recreation areas throughout the Commonwealth, House Republicans voted to freeze funding for local parks and recreation areas in April.  Read more here.
On May 5, House Republicans moved legislation to allow proceeds of the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, one of the primary sources of funding for local recreation projects, to be reallocated on a whim.  Read more here.
The 5-month budget passed by the General Assembly and signed into law in May put off all the hard decisions on recreation, environmental and all other funding until after the November election leaving communities hanging on whether funding will be available for the facilities they need.  Read more here.
Repeated, successful attempts by the House, Senate and the Governor to divert funding to fill budget holes created by bad economic conditions in the past have resulted in the diversion of over $2.93 billion in environmental funding taken for other programs. Read more here.
And it could happen again in November, if the public isn’t paying attention.
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[Posted: June 9, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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