It's a different challenge every day in state parks
Part three of a four-part series
By Randy Bartley
The problems facing the staff managing the Bureau of Forestry's District 8 are almost as large as the district itself.
District 8 covers all or part of five counties, Mercer, Forest, Venango, Clarion and Jefferson. "If you add up our district we are almost 11 percent of the entire state. It is a huge coverage area," said Jake Scheib, assistant district manager for Forest District 8.
Not all of the state's outdoor recreational facilities are managed by the state parks.
"We have added more duties and different pressures like recreation. There is a big need for recreation on state forestland and trying to keep up with that need is a big issue for us. We are at about a third to one half the staff we had at one time," said Scheib.
"We have about 50 miles of trails in the district," he said during a recent visit with the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation to Cook Forest State Park. "We have an aging population and we need to address that. We also need to improve our handicapped access.
"We are getting a lot more activity and that requires renting latrines of installing facilities. Just to replace a two hole latrine it will cost over $100,000."
Scheib continued, "We have seven major campsites along the Clarion River we need to maintain. We are seeing a lot more impact in those areas today. We are not currently structured to handle that impact but, ready or not, we have to deal with it."
The bureau is facing other challenges that are largely unknown by the public.
"We have abandoned shallow wells everywhere," he said. "One of our tracks is just below the Oil City, Franklin area and it has been iron ore, oil, gas, timber and now back again to gas. We have a lot of wells that need plugged. On that tract alone it would cost about a million dollars to plug the wells. I could not even begin to guess how many there are. They are everywhere."
Roads are another infrastructure problem.
"We have 71 miles of roads. The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of these roads in the 1930s. We have to maintain those roads however. You can imagine what we are working with. These are often the access roads the public uses for the state forests," said Scheib.
"We have three major bridges in the district. We have already replaced two of those," he said.
"Many of the bridges were built with an anticipated 50 year life span and they are now over 60 years old. These may be major routes of communication and when they go out people cannot get to their homes or emergency vehicles can't get to the scene," said Marci Mowrey, president of the PPFF.
To maintain the roads the bureau relies on surplus equipment.
"The last grader purchased in our district is from 1982 through the federal excess program," said Scheib.
The dispersal of the staff is another problem.
"We have staff scattered all throughout those counties," said Scheib. "Some of the offices are in parks. The maintenance building for the region is in Jefferson County adjacent to the Clear Creek State Park.
"We still have one fire tower standing. What we would like to do is take it down and put it someplace else. At one time we had eight or nine across the district now we are down to one."
The staff is facing several additional challenges.
"We have drainage issues and water issues to focus on," said Scheib. "We face more deer pressure today. In house we put up deer fences. We have acid mine drainage across the region. In some of those areas there is nothing we can do right now.
"We are mandated by law to have a hand in fire suppression. We have 4,800 square miles and two fire forces."
The lack of funding has determined what can, and cannot be done.
"Those are some of the hurdles we are facing today," he said. "In the district we are trying to prioritize our needs. We just keep juggling items around."
"You can't automate forestry management," said Brad Mallory, PPFF chairman. "It takes humans to act in the parks. We need to step up to the plate and take care of this or our grandchildren will not enjoy what we inherited."
In the final part of this series we will examine possible funding sources for the state parks and forests.