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DCNR addresses booming demand

Comprehensive plan adapted for increase due to pandemic

HARRISBURG — When Pennsylvania officials started developing a new statewide outdoor recreation plan two years ago, no one could have foreseen the public demand for outdoor activities that arose with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan for 2020-24 was released last week at a time when state and local parks and recreation facilities have seen record use since last spring when the pandemic and stay-at-home orders upended everyday life.

These parks are also seeing wear and tear from the upsurge of hikers, strollers and kayakers congregating on trails, paths and the launch areas of waterways.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources expects public demand for outdoor recreation opportunities to only grow in the years ahead.

“The recommendations and actions for this plan were developed shortly before COVID-19, but their implementation now takes on even greater importance,” Gov. Tom Wolf said.

The plan was completed and won approval from the National Park Service prior to the pandemic, but DCNR extended a public comment period through last June.

The final release of a separate plan to guide the state parks for the next 25 years was expected this fall, but that release date is now anticipated for the first part of 2021, DCNR spokeswoman Chris Novak said Monday.

The purpose of the recreation plan is to guide state policies, programs and spending regarding outdoor recreation. The plan needs an update every five years for Pennsylvania to receive grants from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Pennsylvania has received $178 million from the fund since 1965.

“The biggest challenge is still the old — maintaining the multi-billion-dollar infrastructure system that supports outdoor recreation,” the plan says, referring to aging recreation facilities, thousands of miles of roads in state forests and the legacy of abandoned mines and gas wells.

In addition to LWC revenue, state money supports outdoor recreation through the Key 93 Fund, Growing Greener 2 program and a share of Marcellus Shale impact fee.

Yet, the plan notes that dedicated state and federal funding for outdoor recreation has been consistently targeted for other uses such as filling revenue gaps in the state budget.

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