State parks need more attention

It shouldn’t have taken Pennsylvania 25 years to launch a new public review of the basic mission of the state parks system. The system, which now consists of 121 parks, should be subjected to a thorough evaluation at least once every 10 years.

Too much can change — or deteriorate — over a quarter-century.

The time since issuance of the last plan in 1992 has helped prove that.

Beyond the general public, a once-every-decade review would give parks’ supervisory personnel and employees a formal opportunity to provide suggestions based on their own observations.

Also, legislators and other state officials shouldn’t “sit” outside the parks’ daily operations without an up-to-date understanding of whether money being allocated to support the facilities is being spent wisely.

As reported in last Thursday’s Mirror, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hopes to issue a preliminary report on the new review’s findings by the fall of 2018 and a final report in 2019.

Last Thursday’s article pointed out that a number of parks in urban areas were drawing record crowds on holiday weekends, but there are parks away from urban areas attracting skeleton crowds, in comparison with what they formerly accommodated.

One of them not far from Blair County that fits that unhappy description is Shawnee State Park in Bedford County, which used to attract big crowds on virtually every warm-weather weekend, as well as not-anemic crowds on other summer days.

It was a time when the beach area was much larger.

It was a time when there were more good shoreline fishing areas than what currently exist.

It was a time when picnic areas were better maintained.

While the beach shouldn’t be larger than what the need dictates, over the years numerous shoreline fishing areas have been allowed to become overgrown, and in-water plant growth has been allowed to further choke off those areas — to longtime fishermen as well as to the families with children that those areas once attracted.

Meanwhile, some picnic areas that once thrived are overgrown now with grass and weeds, while still “housing” picnic tables whose condition suggests that they might have been placed there during the 1950s.

How many other state parks have had similar situations evolve?

People’s lifestyles have changed and that has affected parks’ attendance. However, attendance also dwindles after people experience conditions that limit their enjoyment.

Perhaps for Shawnee and some other parks to continue as viable recreational entities, lodges, other resort-type facilities and, perhaps, even a golf course in close proximity, might eventually be necessary.

The long-overdue study currently being launched will be a vehicle for making such judgments. A follow-up review 10 years hence should then evaluate if — and how much — progress has been made in addressing needs that this study identifies.

According to DCNR, the first phase of the review will include a public online survey and public-input meetings.

While the study is underway, state lawmakers and other leaders should visit parks so that when the study’s findings are revealed, they’ll have a strong foundation of personal observation and first-hand knowledge on which to base substantive discussion.

But hopefully, first, they’ll also agree that 25 years between reviews is much too long.