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Library hosts Penn’s Parks meeting

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm The beach at Chapman State Park after it reopened in August following the completion of the dam rehabilitation project. The rehabilitation project, land acquisition, and future improvements will be among topics discussed at a public forum titled “Penn’s Parks for All” taking place at the Warren Public Library, 205 Market St., Warren, on Thursday, Nov. 21, from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m. The forum is free to attend and will be held in the Slater Room.

What’s the best feature of a state park? Is it the peace and quiet? Is it the adventure? The scenery?

How can parks be an even-cooler place to hang out? More amenities? Less?

The public has the opportunity to have a say in the future of state parks both locally and statewide.

A public forum titled “Penn’s Parks for All” will take place on Thursday, Nov. 21, from 5:30 to 7:45 p.m. at the Warren Public Library, 205 Market St., Warren. The forum is free to attend and will be held in the Slater Room.

“The meeting is an opportunity for citizens to learn what changes the last strategic plan led to at Chapman (State Park), how their voices can be heard for the current effort, and to hear a recap of the recent dam rehabilitation project, land acquisition, and other improvements at Chapman,” said Tyson Martin, park manager with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of State Parks at Chapman State Park. “This is a great opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions at the park level.”

It’s been 25 years since the DCNR Bureau of State Parks underwent its last strategic planning effort, “State Parks 2000”, according to John S. Hallas, director, Bureau of State Parks, DCNR, in an introduction in “Penn’s Parks for All Draft Strategic Report.”

The list of recommendations from that process included the modernization of facilities, expanding environmental education program offerings, and designating natural areas in parks to better protect sensitive or special natural resources, Hallas wrote.

The goal of the “Penn’s Parks for All” strategic planning process is to help guide Pennsylvania’s state park professionals in carrying out the important work of caring for the 121 state parks in the system for the next 25 years, according to Hallas.

In the beginning of the “Penn’s Parks for All” initiative, a series of issues were identified that seem to be most pressing for today’s state park system and the future of the parks. These issues guided the development of the bureau’s public survey questions and internal and external discussions.

The goal of the initiative is to manage the system in a way that provides an enjoyable and safe experience for growing numbers of visitors, while also properly caring for the recreational, natural, and cultural resources that attract visitors to the parks.

The annual budget for the DCNR Bureau of State Parks has regularly fluctuated due to changes in the economy and other governmental needs, but trends over several decades show a systemic problem. Since 1970, 36 more state parks have been added to the system with 81,000 additional acres to manage, and millions more people visiting the parks annually. The total number of state park staff, however, has decreased over that same time.

Survey questions addressed in the draft strategic report were categorized by: outdoor recreation opportunities, overnight accommodations, protecting natural and cultural resources, paying for state parks and improving services and facilities.

Results of the survey questions indicate the public desires a continued emphasis on healthful outdoor recreation activities with the expectation of quiet, natural, or wild experiences. Additionally, there was agreement that state parks should offer more active adventure experiences.

When it comes to overnight accommodations, most respondents prefer a designation of quiet, wild, and remote camping experiences in state park campgrounds.

As far as protecting natural and cultural resources, the survey indicates the public agrees that state park aquatic resources should be improved, as well as terrestrial native habitats. The survey also suggests the bureau should provide more support for volunteer efforts that assist park operations.

Survey respondents do not support fees imposed on park visitors to bridge budget shortfalls. There is strong public concurrence that the commonwealth should increase funding to maintain, repair, and improve park facilities, and that increased funding occur without creating new fees or increasing existing costs to park visitors. In addition, there is mild support among 2017 survey respondents for converting low-usage parks to being more rustic with minimal facilities.

Those who responded to survey questions didn’t indicate a major need for improvement in park services and facilities. There is high public satisfaction with the quality of services and facilities currently being offered at state parks. Constraints to using state parks appear to be few, but more work could be done to improve transportation opportunities to parks from urban areas.

The complete “Penn’s Parks for All Draft Strategic Report” can be viewed and/or downloaded at dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/PennsParksforAll/Pages.

The final report is scheduled to be released in Summer 2020. Plans are to have state park staff work groups formed to begin developing implementation plans for each recommendation in the fall.

Comments can be submitted via an online comment form at dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks or by mail to PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Bureau of State Parks, Planning Section, P.O. Box 8551, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8551.

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