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Info vital to access state parks

Pennsylvania residents who are outdoor-recreation oriented — and even those who aren’t — can find plenty of informative reading by accessing the preliminary “Penn’s Parks For All Plan” on the website of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (www.dcnr.pa.gov).

This is an important time for the commonwealth’s 121 state parks; once completed, the plan will guide how Pennsylvania will manage the recreational facilities over the next 25 years, including how to deal with and confront the many formidable challenges that the parks system will face over the next quarter-century.

With the preliminary 44-page plan now having been released, the next steps in the planning process will be public review, discussion and comment this fall and into the winter, then release of the final version of the plan next summer. During the fall of next year, state park staff work groups will begin developing implementation plans for each recommendation.

Pennsylvania also is in the process of compiling its new statewide recreation plan covering the years 2020 to 2024 to help guide recreation policies, programs and investments.

The recreation plan is needed for Pennsylvania to remain eligible for federal grants from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which, over the past 55 years, has allocated more than $178 million to the Keystone State.

DCNR is accepting public comment on both plans; state residents shouldn’t procrastinate regarding forming opinions and making those thoughts known so they can be accorded adequate consideration.

Regarding the proposed Outdoor Recreation Plan, DCNR will be providing public-comment opportunities through online webinars Oct. 17, Oct. 22 and Oct. 24, information about which is available from the state agency, although those won’t be the only comment opportunities available prior to the stated Oct. 31 comment deadline.

Public comment on the “Penn’s Parks For All Plan” apparently will continue to be accepted until at least the end of the year, giving state residents ample time to digest the information contained in the well-written preliminary online document.

About the only window for complaint dealing with the information presented is that it doesn’t provide enough detailed statistics about public use of the 121 parks individually, such as usage figures for the decades covering, say, the last 50 or 60 years.

DCNR says attendance at state parks has increased by 10 million — to 39 million — during the past nearly 50 years, but people familiar with Shawnee State Park in Bedford County have grounds to question that park’s popularity now as compared to what it was a half-century ago.

For example, the beach area is a fraction of what it formerly was, and fishing is more difficult, unless anglers are in a boat.

The state’s Parks 2000 report said $100 million was needed to address properly a growing list of parks’ maintenance and replacement projects statewide; the preliminary “Parks for All Plan” currently being developed lists the current number as $500 million — certainly no basis for optimism.

State taxpayers who might be concerned about how much is being budgeted for state parks — whether too much or too little — should familiarize themselves with the information available.

It’s important for everyone to have a voice in how the 121 parks are preserved now and for future generations.

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