Be a ‘Friend’ and help out at a state park

This year is a special year for Pennsylvania outdoor lovers.

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the formation of the commonwealth’s first state park, as well as the law that led to the creation of the state forest system.

At a recent regional retreat hosted by the 501-c3 Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation at Prince Gallitzin State Park, more than 30 members of PPFF chapters, or “Friends” groups gathered to discuss best practices for promoting the use and preservation of these natural treasures.

Some joined their local chapter because they love the state park in their own backyard; others work closely with a park as a campground host or in other capacities; but all recognize the value of Pennsylvania parks and forests for recreation and tourism, health and wellness, business success and economic development.

A Penn State University study submitted to DCNR in 2012 found that within one year, the commonwealth’s state parks hosted more than 37 million visitors who spent $859 million, while employing 12,360 people.

Those visitors, including local residents as well as tourists used the parks for a myriad of recreational activities, from hiking and biking to snowmobiling and skiing. Some use their local park as part of their daily exercise regimen; some use it as a vacation getaway to camp under the stars, to fish, boat or swim in a lake.

They enjoy the peaceful detachment from computers and cellphones, not to mention beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

The Friends groups, including a number of chapters in our region, work to create programs and activities for all generations to enjoy.

“Friends” have built a butterfly garden and made a children’s playground a reality, while hosting events throughout the year at Canoe Creek. They’ve contributed to a new amphitheater, and brought “Arts in the Park” as well as an annual fireworks show to Shawnee State Park; and host a summer festival among other activities at Black Moshannon.

These volunteers focus their efforts on supplementing the state’s commitment to parks and forests through fundraising, work dates, public relations and much more.

When Maurice Goddard took over the Department of Parks and Forests a decade after the end of World War II, he made the goal to give every Pennsylvania citizen access to a state park within 25 miles of their home. Over the next quarter century, through the administrations of five governors, Goddard led the effort to add 45 state parks and 130,000 acres of land to the PA system. Much of that effort continues to serve us today, and most of our state’s citizens are less than a half-hour’s drive to recreational activities in state park or forest.

As the spring weather improves and we use the parks more and more, Friends groups across the state will be celebrating this special birthday each in their own way: hosting hikes and floats, movies and concerts, festivals and fireworks.

To get involved, or learn more, visit PaParksAndForest.org.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org.

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