2009-05-21 / Features

Senate's Budget Would Close At Least 35 State Parks

Families, outdoor enthusiasts would miss out on popular destinations

The millions of visitors who flock to Pennsylvania's state parks and forests to relax and experience nature's beauty would have fewer opportunities to do so under a budget plan that passed the Senate last week.

If enacted, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources acting Secretary John Quigley said the Senate proposal will force the agency to close at least 35 state parks and 1,000 miles of state forest roads, which would sharply reduce access for anglers, hunters and hikers.

Under Senate Bill 850, an additional $19 million would be cut from DCNR's budget beyond the difficult but prudent reductions Gov. Edward G. Rendell proposed in February.

"Families that cannot afford to take a vacation because of the tough economic times could always count on enjoying a little rest and relaxation at a nearby state park or forest," said Quigley. "However, if the Senate's budget proposal is enacted, there would be even fewer of those opportunities as we would have to close a number of state parks. That means less traffic and fewer dollars being spent in the rural communities with businesses and jobs that count on these parks and forests.

"The Senate's proposal would be absolutely devastating to these rural areas and to our efforts to preserve our natural resources for present and future generations. In contrast, the governor's budget proposal reflects the difficult economy we now face and would still allow us to provide a quality outdoor experience for our citizens and visitors," Quigley said, also noting that closing 35 state parks would turn away more than 3 million visitors and wipe out at least $57 million in visitor spending on products and services in nearby communities.

Many other programs that enhance a visitor's experience at a state park or forest, protect natural resources, or help communities offer more recreational opportunities also would suffer under the Senate's proposal.

About 40,000 acres of forest AllianceGradADslicks07.indd 1

would be vulnerable to gypsy moths because the department will not be able to apply treatments, while a program that offers 1 million tree seedlings for purchase by landowners would be eliminated. The seedling program helps protect watersheds, control soil erosion, reclaim former mining areas, and provide food and cover to wildlife.

In addition, DCNR would likely remove state forest rangers who serve as the primary contact for visitors and who promote safety and enforce the law on forestlands. Local governments and communities that depend on DCNR for important topographic, geologic and technical information, as well as help with 1,000 active grants for parks, trails and other recreational developments will receive less help under the Senate's proposal.

Quigley also noted that the Senate's plan does not restore funding for the department's heritage tourism grants, despite repeated criticisms by the caucus when Gov. Rendell made the difficult decision to cut the program.

Pennsylvania has 117 state parks and 2.1 million acres of state forests, including 3,000 miles of roads that provide access to the forests.

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