Commitment to state parks is important

Pennsylvania’s state parks again are the subject of welcome attention, just as they were in the summer of 2017, when a long-overdue, first-in-25 years public review of the basic mission of the parks system was launched.

But while the examination that was begun about a year and a half ago sought to identify problems and needs in the commonwealth’s 121 parks, as well as to gather suggestions about how to address them, at the forefront now is a proposed campaign that’s aimed at tackling $1 billion in needed infrastructure work in the recreational facilities.

It’s a projected 10-year effort that, in addition to focusing on the park’s problems and needs, will delve into needs associated with the 2.7 million acres of state-owned forests.

Specifically targeted are deteriorating buildings, water and sewer treatment systems, and trails and roads, not only in the parks but also in the state forests.

According to a Jan. 24 Mirror article, conservation advocates are seeking public support; there should be no doubts about the need and importance of such support.

However, first, blame for the current condition of the parks — many of them in serious need of remedial action — needs to be directed where blame is due: at the state government.

A half-century ago, despite having facilities that by today’s standards might seem primitive, the parks system was a gem about which people across the commonwealth could feel proud.

But over the years since then, something happened. That “something” was a two-pronged dilemma in the form of much-too-limited parks-maintenance funds and a lack of strong leadership advocating for the parks’ best interests.

Rather than implementing ways to make the parks more attractive, exciting and welcoming, leaders succumbed to the excuse that people’s lifestyles were changing and that the parks were not so much an important asset as they had been in, say, the 1950s and 1960s.

It was a defeatist attitude that has come back to haunt the state now and going forward.

Perhaps now there’s hope, though, on a scale greater than what the public review launched in 2017 offered. The study was a project of identification and recommendation; the proposed $1 billion campaign represents a pathway to getting much or most needed work done.

Leading the effort is the nonprofit Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation. The foundation presented a 43-page report detailing the specific infrastructure needs of the parks and forests systems to Gov. Tom Wolf on Jan. 22.

The Jan. 24 Mirror article dealing with the foundation’s goal reported that a state parks and forests legislative caucus was being formed to beef up attention regarding the issue.

It’s important to acknowledge that years might pass before the foundation’s current preparatory work, if successful, begins to show major, visible results.

That’s because the foundation will be spending the next several years trying to build a coalition of supporters and trying to raise public awareness about the troubling situations that exist in the parks, in hopes of attracting all of the funds needed to carry out the work.

The foundation is hellbent on not allowing its effort to fail — on not allowing the state parks to die.

People and entities large and small should do what they can — now and going forward — to help the foundation succeed in accomplishing the great work it has set out to do.

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