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Op-Ed: Protecting critical funding for outdoor recreation

November 19, 2020

November 17, 2020

The current budget proposal to transfer funds from the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund is dangerous to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians and our state parks and forests. It undermines the economic well-being of communities and reduces jobs.

These may read like strong assertions, but let’s look at the facts.

During COVID-19, legions of visitors flocked to the outdoors to protect their physical, mental and emotional health. State parks alone saw unprecedented numbers, as outlined by the graphic below.

The Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund create jobs—through the thousands of small businesses that provide the labor and expertise to take projects to completion – think invasive species contractors, wildland fire (aviation) support, surveyors, landscapers, architects, engineers, planners, drafters, geologists, archaeologists, manufacturers (playground equipment, picnic tables, fire rings, swimming pools, water/sewage components), lumber yards and building materials suppliers, hardware stores, painters, contractors, builders, heavy equipment operators, chemical companies, equipment rental businesses, planners, designers, aggregate and paving companies, roofing contractors, fencing installers, tradespeople (electricians, plumbers, carpenters). By removing the funds, you reduce opportunities for employment across the state and for many in the rural economies of Pennsylvania. At a time when we NEED jobs, it is counterintuitive to reduce employment opportunities.

The Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund support the quality of life that makes Pennsylvania a great place to live, work, and play. Those same qualities attract businesses to Pennsylvania—an educated populace (schools, libraries, historic preservation), and access to open space and outdoor recreation (parks, forests and recreation).

Pennsylvania ranks 5th in the nation in consumer spending as it relates to outdoor recreation BECAUSE we invest in our state and local parks and forests. That is more than $29 BILLION a year, which supports more than 250,000 jobs – jobs that Pennsylvania needs, even more so today. Outdoor recreation generates $1.9 billion in tax revenue for the state … let me repeat that, outdoor recreation generates $1.9 billion in tax revenue.

Currently, there is more demand than funds available for the grants administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Grant funding also leverages private funding, at a rate of nearly $3 private funds for every $1 of public funding, thus saving taxpayers money. Many of these applications go unfunded due to lack of funds, and those that are selected may not receive the full amount needed due to insufficient funds. Our state parks and forest currently have a $1 billion need for investment to keep them safe and up to standards.

Surveys show that more than three-quarters of Pennsylvania citizens believe that parks, trails, and open spaces are an essential part of our healthcare system. Additionally, in the same survey, a majority of respondents believe that the state should INCREASE permanent funding for park and recreational opportunities.

All Pennsylvanians benefit from the Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund—through clean water and air, through vibrant communities that are attractive places to live and work, through access to literacy and heritage, and by engaging people in the outdoors which improves human health. We urge leaders to oppose any transfers from the Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund.

Marci J. Mowery, President

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