COOK FOREST - Pennsylvania's state parks and forests are not only a source of leisure for millions of people but an economic generator, a generator that has been neglected according to a report by the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation.
During a recent visit to the Cook Forest/Clear Creek State Park, PPFF board members saw firsthand the need for improvements in one of the state's busiest parks.
"There is a billion dollar need for maintenance infrastructure improvements in our state parks and state forests," said Marci Mowrey, president of PPFF. "That is split almost evenly between the Bureau of State Parks and the Bureau of State Forests.
"It is not only a lack of money but a lack of staff. Yet years of underfunding has reduced staffing levels in state parks to the same levels they were in the 1970s when there were fewer parks and only 20 million visitors."
Mowrey continued, "State forest staffing levels are also down, while pressures on the forests, from invasive pests and flooding to increased visitation, are on the rise.
"The work of park and forest staff cannot be mitigated through technology and abstract theory. It requires people.
"Any investment, like your own car or home, requires regular maintenance to retain its value. We need to keep the roof from leaking and periodically change the oil in the car."
For state parks and forests that same regular maintenance means investments in our roads, bridges, trails, beaches, and campgrounds.
"It means managing for invasive plants and diseases, and restoring landscapes from past industrial uses," said Mowrey.
"A study done in 2015 by VisitPA.com found that $6.9 billion in tourism industry sales in the state were associated with recreation, making it the third most profitable industry in the state (behind transportation and the food/beverage industry)," said Tina Molski, vice chair of the PPFF.
The Outdoor Industry Association has found that outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania accounted for $21.5 billion in consumer spending, 219,000 direct jobs, $7.2 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue.
"As someone who works in the recreation industry, I know the value of Pennsylvania's state parks and forests. These resources provide unparalleled outdoor recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike," said Molski.
The state parks provide 180 boat ramps, 56 swimming beaches, 50 fishing piers, 18 swimming pools, 30,000 picnic tables, 280 cabins, 2 golf courses, and thousands of miles of trails for hiking, snowmobiling, and horseback riding.
"The lack of a reliable, dedicated source of funding to maintain and improve existing recreational infrastructure in Pennsylvania's state parks and forests is harming its potential," said Molski.
There are 114 state parks and 20 forest districts in Pennsylvania.
In part two of this series, the needs at Cook Forest/Clear Creek will be examined.