New Year's is long gone, but I'm making a resolution. Call it my summer mission to gain a better appreciation for our region's state parks.
Most residents of Pennsylvania live within 25 miles of a state park, but how many of us take advantage of the extensive recreational opportunities available right here in our own back yard? From Canoe Creek to Trough Creek, Blue Knob to Black Moshannnon to Shawnee, and throughout the state, there are nearly 250,000 acres of fields, trails, lakes and mountains to explore and enjoy.
From sunrise fishing trips to stargazing excursions, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources strives to create a wide array of activities and experiences for all ages of Pennsylvania residents, and most of them are free.
Canoe Creek State Park, for example, is gearing up for a busy summer schedule, which includes kayak paddling lessons (kayaks provided, if needed), bat hikes, nature walks and a June rain barrel workshop. The last week of May is Hike Week, with excursions planned to the Bat Mine on Hartman Trail, and the Moore Hill Trail. Saturday and Sunday kayak tours are available (it's just $5 for a two-hour tour.)
Heidi Boyle, environmental educator at Canoe Creek State Park, has been busy planning this summer's activity schedule, which may soon be youngsters' best chance to enjoy the park.
"Some elementary teachers are telling us this may be the last year for state park field trips, at least for a while," said Boyle. "With budget cuts, the transportation expenses may be too much for schools, even though the park activities themselves are free."
State parks seem to have survived their own budget crises over the past few years, and the gates have remained open, giving Pennsylvania families endless possibilities for camping, hiking, biking, swimming, and much more.
Canoe Creek State Park manager, Steve Volgstadt reports that cabins there are nearly sold out from June through August, and the lakeshore is often lined with anglers during the morning hours.
"The lake is stocked with trout, so we're busy with fishermen," Volgstadt said.
State Parks give us a window into Pennsylvania's past; Canoe Creek's Hartman kilns are a good example of a place where we can hike into history.
With the price of gas continuing to rise, it's a great time to enjoy the beauty of our region by bike or by boat. Enjoying a day of pedaling or paddling can be good for our health and our wallets, not to mention relaxing and rewarding experiences.
I look forward to my summer adventures in our region's state parks, and I hope you'll join me in exploring and appreciating all they have to offer.
For more information on Canoe Creek State Park, its programs and activities, call 695-6807; for information on any state park, call toll-free: 1-888-PA-PARKS, or learn more online at www.VisitpaParks.com.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.