Outdoor recreation is an important part of life for many Pennsylvanians. Scenic trails for hiking and biking, abundant forests for hunting, clean waterways for fishing, local parks and playgrounds for enjoying time outdoors: all of these can be found across the commonwealth, interwoven into the fabric of happy, healthy communities. Growing Greener investments help acquire and maintain land for a variety of recreational uses, providing people with ample opportunities to appreciate the beautiful natural spaces that Pennsylvania has to offer.
State Park and Forest Maintenance Needs
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) manages more than two million acres of state parks and forests. This vast collection of natural lands requires ongoing maintenance and improvements in order to continue offering high-quality recreation opportunities for an estimated 35 million annual visitors. There are thousands of miles of roads, trails, and campsites, plus hundreds of bridges, dams, and cabins. DCNR also maintains swimming pools, ski areas, and golf courses. Altogether, the documented needs list for necessary repairs and updates to this infrastructure is over $800 million.
Outdated Local Parks
There are more than 5,000 community parks across Pennsylvania. Many were developed in the 1960’s and 70’s when federal funding was more plentiful. But the years have taken a toll, and today a substantial number of these treasured local spaces require upgrades to improve safety, modernize their facilities, and accommodate new recreational demands. Many are also in need of changes to promote accessibility so that all Pennsylvanians have the chance to enjoy them.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) manages 62 commonwealth-owned lakes that provide excellent fishing and boating opportunities. PFBC has identified 23 high-hazard dams on these lakes in need of repairs before they deteriorate to the point of being unsafe. If these dams are not rehabilitated, they will become dangerous liabilities and impair the recreational value of the lakes.
Neglected Water Access Areas
Pennsylvania has nearly a thousand public fishing and boating access areas that serve as gateways to the commonwealth’s water resources. A majority of these sites are managed by local clubs and municipalities, while the rest are managed by PFBC. Due to funding shortages, many access points have suffered from years of deferred maintenance or have been closed altogether due to safety concerns.
Limited to Access to State Game Lands
State Game Lands in Pennsylvania provide habitat for a wide variety of small and big-game animals. Hunters value this diversity, and use the lands heavily. On opening day of deer season alone, 750,000 people go hunting. However, certain groups of people interested in using these areas—especially individuals with disabilities and the elderly—face obstacles that prevent them from taking advantage of hunting and other recreation opportunities.
Trail Gaps and Renovations
Pennsylvania boasts over 11,000 miles of trails. However, these trails require constant maintenance, and many of the older ones will need major renovations in the near future to address issues like erosion and lack of accessibility. Without these renovations, trails could be deemed unsafe and forced to close. Renovation projects are not cheap—they can cost upwards of $150,000 per mile. There are also major gaps in Pennsylvania’s system of trails, areas where uncompleted sections hamper trail use and present safety concerns.
GROWING GREENER ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Growing Greener has funded multi-pronged efforts to enhance the recreation experience of anglers and boaters. In coordination with local partners, PFBC has installed habitat enhancements and improved facilities at lakes when the water is drawn for repairs. Recent examples include Glade Run Lake (Butler County), Lake Nessmuk (Tioga County), and Opossum Lake (Cumberland County). Historically, grants to local partners on these types of projects and others yield significant matching funds, more than doubling the number of projects completed.
Fixing Hazardous Dams
PFBC has made or received commitments to address 24 high-hazard dams since 2008, using a combination of funding sources including Growing Greener. Projects like the Pennypack Stream Restoration in Philadelphia, which saw the rebirth of a free-flowing stream from a former series of stagnant pools, showcase the benefits of this work.
Improving Parks and Playgrounds
With the help of Growing Greener, DCNR has provided grants allowing communities to improve their local parks and playgrounds, and to create new spaces for people to exercise and connect with the outdoors. These projects are especially vital in small or low-income communities, where residents may have no safe places to exercise and play with their children. In Harborcreek Township, a grant supported the transformation of a neglected playground into a thriving, safe place for families. Westmoreland County, which lacked facilities for youth involved in skateboarding, skating, and BMX biking, used grant money to build Peach Plaza Skate Park. There are also numerous examples, like the Bells Gap Railroad Trail, of successful trails and greenways made possible by Growing Greener. Often designed for multiple uses, these corridors are popular with walkers, joggers, bikers, skiers, and equestrians.
Expanding State Forests
Pennsylvania’s state forests cover 2.2 million acres. They provide a wealth of ecosystem service benefits, helping purify the air and shelter wildlife while offering opportunities for camping, hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. They have benefited tremendously from Growing Greener: for example, a coalition of partners used Growing Greener funds to add 2,500 acres to Michaux State Forest in Adams County in 2010. The land contained headwaters for two important streams and a vast network of trails; once threatened by development, the area is now protected and available to the public for recreation.
THE POTENTIAL OF GROWING GREENER
Renovating Parks and Trails
With increased investments from Growing Greener, DCNR would leverage additional funding through its competitive grants program to modernize hundreds of local parks, assuring that they are safe and accessible. Competitive grants could also result in the renovation of hundreds of trail miles, and the completion of projects to close major trail gaps. By leveraging public and private dollars, Growing Greener funding would support initiatives to create open space, bike/pedestrian connections, and riverfront access in Pennsylvania’s core urban communities, providing recreation outlets in the communities that need them.
Waterway Access and Maintenance
New Growing Greener funds would be a catalyst for the further development of recreation opportunities across Pennsylvania. With strong annual investments, PFBC could accelerate targeted dam removal and habitat repair in the watersheds most important to Pennsylvania’s recreation industry while continuing improvements to docks, boat ramps, parking lots, and other facilities essential for access along waterways.
Ensuring Healthy Fish Populations
PFBC would use Growing Greener funds to supplement native fish populations with fish raised in state hatcheries and cooperative nurseries, which is necessary to ensure quality fishing experiences in Pennsylvania. PFBC has identified opportunities to improve energy efficiency at the hatcheries, reducing long-term operating costs and minimizing the environmental footprint of the facilities.
Sustainable State Parks and Forests
In state parks and forests, DCNR would focus on greening its infrastructure to lower energy consumption and operating costs, showcasing an environmentally and economically sustainable model of operations. A strong system of state parks and forests is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy: studies show that visitor spending in parks contributed nearly $2 billion in sales and value-added effects to the economy, while supporting more than 12,000 jobs.
Improving Access on State Game Lands
The Pennsylvania Game Commission would improve access in State Game Lands, upgrading roads, gates, fences, and other structures to allow use by a greater number of hunters and outdoors enthusiasts. Growing Greener investments would also fund updates to several administrative buildings, and the construction of two new wildlife education centers.