Why We Support a Free Park and Forest System
As we travel the state talking about the need to invest in the maintenance in our state parks and forests, we sometimes hear that the solution is to charge an admission or a parking fee. Well-meaning as the sentiment may be, here is why we don’t support that option.
First, our state parks and forests belong to the people of the Commonwealth and, as such, residents (and visitors too – who pay sales tax on services they purchase) are paying for said parks and forests.
Second, it is not cost effective to charge an admission or parking fee. Our parks and forests were not designed for this. Some parks have as many as 32 entrances, including township or county roads that travel through park property! And think about the number of parking areas in a park or forest. Funds from setting up contact stations or monitoring parking areas would be used to implement the program, NOT address maintenance needs. Overworked staff would be set to monitoring and implementing the fee-based program NOT addressing other visitor needs and safety.
Third, even if fees did raise revenue, how long would that revenue remain with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for its needs? How long before the revenue was instead used to offset General Fund allocations to the Department? For example, the revenue generated for overnight stays and pavilion rentals used to fund maintenance. When General Fund allocations dropped, this revenue was diverted to operations. The Oil and Gas Lease Fund used to fund projects but is now controlled by the General Assembly. The Keystone Fund and the Environmental Stewardship Fund remain targets EVERY YEAR, despite being allocated specifically to meet the needs of state parks and forests, as well as community recreation.
Fourth, Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to their public lands, as set forth in the Environmental Rights Amendment.
Article I, Section The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
Investing in our parks and forests is just that – an INVESTMENT – and it is the state’s duty to conserve and maintain them.
Outdoor recreation benefits Pennsylvania both from a human health view point and from an economic perspective. Consumer spending in outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania is over $29.3 billion, supporting over 219,000 jobs and generating more than $1.3 in tax revenue. People who spend time in the outdoors tend to be more active. According to the website http://www.healthycommunitieshealthyfuture.org/, the estimated annual health care costs of obesity-related illness are a staggering $190.2 billion or nearly 21% of annual medical spending in the United States. By investing in our parks and forests, we not only bring tax payer revenue into the state and employ people, we can reduce health care costs, which can also lead to a reduction in sick days for employers.
Having access to the outdoors improves quality of life, which translates into attracting business and increasing housing values. Protecting our natural assets has environmental functions, from reducing storm water impacts, controlling flooding, improving air and water quality, cooling the air, creating wind shields, lowering costs for treating and controlling water, and increasing creativity, healing time, and memory in humans.
For all of the reasons listed above we support a free access park and forest system and support general fund investment in our state parks and forests.