This morning we sent a letter to the members of the General Assembly, the Governor, and Budget Secretary Swails in support of the American Rescue Plan’s provisions to support our state parks and forests infrastructure.
We at the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation have been saying it for years: access to parks and forests is good for human and environmental health. The pandemic took our statement and put an exclamation point on it.
Through every phase of the pandemic our community and state parks and forests provided much needed space for enhancing physical, mental and emotional health, while also providing places to connect with family and friends. Our state parks alone had close to 47 million visitors, an increase of 26 percent over 2019. And heavy use continues.
Our second mantra is that parks and forests are good for the economy. This, too, played out during the pandemic, with businesses located near parks doing record years, such as Miller’s Purely Maple at Leonard Harrison State Park, Pymatuning Boat Sales in Jamestown, Pocono Whitewater in Jim Thorpe and Seven Springs Resort in Somerset County. (Read their stories on our special COVID-19 webpage.)
It simply and strongly demonstrates that parks are indispensable to our personal, social and community health. And our economy.
Outfitters also had record sales, as bikes, kayaks, RVs and camping supplies flew off the shelves.
While our parks and forests do much for us–they appear to be underappreciated when it comes to reinvesting in them for Pennsylvania’s future.
In 2019, PPFF released a report outlining the impact of decreased staff, increased usage, and a growing backlog of maintenance–state parks and forests need more than $1 billion for crucial access and safety needs.
Lack of investments are taking their toll on these essential public spaces and services that support a thriving populace.
Fortunately, The American Rescue Plan provides direct aid to state and local governments for infrastructure investments; for offsetting revenue losses from COVID and responding to the public health emergency; and for critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, among others.
Some states are taking advantage of these funds to invest in their park and forest infrastructure. We write today to urge Pennsylvania to take advantage of this opportunity to allocate a portion of the American Recovery Plan to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for investment in the maintenance of our public lands, and thus our future.
Such an investment is not only socially and environmentally sound; it also makes direct economic sense. According to an Outdoor Recreation Industry study, Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation in terms of consumer spending in outdoor recreation, which generates $29.1 billion in consumer spending annually, supporting 251,000 jobs and generating $8.6 billion in wages and salary and $1.9 billion in state and local tax revenue.
When we fail to invest in our parks and forests, we stand to impact this thriving Pennsylvania industry.
With the number of users of our public lands increasing during COVID, it Is not only reasonable to expect an increased continued use, surveys support this assumption. With the acquisition of new equipment, licenses and skills, many people indicate that they will continue to seek places to recreate after the pandemic.
Will we be ready?
As appropriate and timely the American Rescue Plan’s provisions are, they do not automatically flow to the owners and stewards of our public parks and greenspaces.
We write to ask you to join us in supporting any funding designated for recovery and reimbursement of COVID-related expenses to extend to the costs of repairing, renewing and operating our precious public assets, and to build better resilience against future distresses.
An open, robust, and well-maintained system of parks, forests and public spaces strengthens us all, and makes Pennsylvania a better place to live, work and play.
cc: The Honorable Tom Wolf, Governor
Jen Swails, Secretary of the Budget
The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PAParksAndForests.org) represents 49 chapters across the state and the thousands of Pennsylvanians who have donated more than 144,000 hours over the last three years alone to improve our parks and forests annually.