Pennsylvania established its first state park in 1893 to preserve the historic Valley Forge site near Philadelphia. Valley Forge was transferred to the federal government in 1976 as a national historical park.
Through the foresight and influence of Joseph Rothrock, Gifford Pinchot and other conservationists of the time, Pennsylvania acquired and set aside thousands of acres of forest and park lands during the early years of the twentieth century, and the Bureau of State Parks was officially created in 1929.
From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) made a considerable impact on many of Pennsylvania's state parks. The CCC was one of several government programs put in place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help the nation recover from the Great Depression. The CCC employed young men in their late teens and early twenties who worked out of many camps located throughout the state. CCC crews performed a wide range of tasks, from building roads, bridges and buildings to fighting forest fires and planting trees. Greenwood Furnace, Blue Knob, Black Moshannon, Parker Dam and Whipple Dam are some of the state parks in our region that benefited from the work of the CCC.
In the prosperity that followed World War II, use of our state parks increased dramatically. When Maurice K. Goddard became secretary of what was then called the Department of Forests and Waters in 1955, there were 44 state parks in Pennsylvania. But Goddard had an even greater vision for the park system and set an ambitious goal of establishing a state park with 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian. And during his 24 years of service as a cabinet officer for five governors from 1955 to 1979, Goddard was able to realize that vision as he added another 45 state parks, totaling 130,000 acres of land, into the public trust.
Pennsylvania's park system now totals 117 state parks and three conservation areas, which comprise almost 300,000 acres. Nearly 40 million folks visit Pennsylvania's state parks each year. Presque Isle State Park in Erie County hosts about 4 million visitors annually, more than Yellowstone National Park.
As a further testament to the value of our network of state parks, Pennsylvania was honored in 2009 as the best in the nation when it received the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association.
It's probably safe to say that most outdoor enthusiasts in Pennsylvania have enjoyed the various recreational opportunities offered by our state park system at one time or another. And many of us tend to spend a lot of time in our favorite parks. From fishing, boating, swimming and camping to more specialized activities like rock climbing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking or horseback riding to general sightseeing or wildlife watching, our state parks provide an unlimited amount of outdoor opportunities. And almost all of those are free or available for a reasonable cost, which can help folks stretch their vacation dollars in the current economy.
Even though I have long been a fan of our state park system and have been fortunate to explore many of its parks, both close to home and around the state, I am always fascinated to learn about all the wonderful things they have to offer. My personal areas of interest generally lean toward special natural areas or historical sites, but many parks now provide popular contemporary activities like disc golfing, orienteering and geocaching.
One of the best ways I've found to research all the possibilities at our state parks is on the official state parks website: www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks. From here you can locate parks individually by region and find out everything a specific park has to offer, including maps and other details.
Most parks offer regular instructional programs and other activities covering a wide range of topics that are listed on the "Events Calendar," which is searchable by region or individual park.
And if you are looking for specific things to do or see, check out the "Things to Do" website page. Here you will find links to more than 40 different outdoor activities and opportunities, along with information on the parks that offer them.