Pennsylvania State Parks and the Declining Budget

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1 Pennsylvania State Parks and the Declining Budget By Andrew Wurst English 202A Section 001 Dr. Tammie Fleeger April 27, 2011

2 Pennsylvania currently has some of the best state parks and recreation areas in the entire United States of America. These state parks are enjoyed by millions of people each year. According to the Pennsylvania DCNR s (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) website, nearly 34.1 million people visited the parks in 2009 alone. And despite winning the top honor as the 2009 Gold Medal award in Park and Recreation Management, Pennsylvania s budget for state parks is in danger of being drastically reduced. It is important for college students to become aware of these issues; because Pennsylvania s Figure 1: National Gold Medal Winner young people are the ones who will have to deal with it in the future. Plus many college students enjoy the benefits these parks have to offer. Although Pennsylvania has some of the best parks in the United States, many college students are not aware of how truly great these places are. With Pennsylvania s allotted budget for state parks decreasing, it is important for Pennsylvania s great young minds to become educated and aware of all that these parks offer. Taking a stand against lawmakers and politicians who are pushing for these budget cuts can make a difference. Young scholars must be made aware of these issues, before it is too late for something to be done.

3 But if they become educated and are made aware of what can be done to prevent these cuts from happening, Pennsylvania s parks can uphold their astounding reputation for generations to come. Aside from a great place to let off some steam, these parks have many financial, environmental, and economical benefits. The 34.1 million visitors that attended at least one state park in 2009, brought in over $818 million dollars of revenue to the state. In figure 1 we can see where most of this revenue comes from. Restaurants and Bars bring in an overwhelming amount of the revenue, as tourists and residents love to enjoy the unique atmospheres these places have to offer. Figure 2: From the PA Land and Trust Assoc. website Although much of the sales and revenue made do not directly fall into the hands of the State Parks, it is their facilities, land and sites that lure the visitors in. It is very obvious to see that these parks are responsible for an immense amount of revenue for the state. So what is the problem? In June 2009, the senate proposed a budget cut for Pennsylvania state parks that would close up to 35 of the 117 parks.

4 (Albrecht, par 1) Although the figures aren t exact, after doing a little math one would find that by closing 35 of the 117 parks, the parks collectively would lose 30% of their total income. If this bill were passed Pennsylvania would lose an average of $245 billion dollars in revenue. This is money that is used to fund the very universities we attend, thus affecting every college student in Pennsylvania. Wouldn t it be wise to cut funds in areas that aren t bringing in revenue for the state? Although the bill was not passed, state parks in Pennsylvania continue to be under an immense amount of pressure from lawmakers and those concerned with the budget. About a year later, after Pennsylvania was able to fight off the proposed massive cut of 35 parks from the budget, the DCNR was under fire again from Democratic governor Ed Rendell. This time, the results were not so favorable. On July 1, 2010, Rendell signed a $28 million spending plan that resulted in $10 million in cuts from the DCNR s budget. These cuts resulted in job loss, reduced labor hours, and delayed maintenance projects. (Pidgeon 2010) The only positive thing about 2010 budget cut was that all 117 parks were able to remain open. Although these parks have managed to remain open, with less workers and maintenance, the parks are becoming less appealing. Although Pennsylvania s parks are still incredibly beautiful and well kept, if budget cuts continue, our state parks system will continue to spiral down until it reaches the point where parks are no longer pleasing to visitors. These parks cannot

5 operate to their full potential if staff numbers continue to be reduced. Proper upkeep and maintenance will become unsustainable in the near future if these cuts are not stopped. Because it has only been 10 months since the budget cut, the true effects have not yet been made apparent. Necessary maintenance and improvement projects may be held off for a few months or even a year, but as time goes on, the wear and tear on the parks will become visible to those who frequent the parks. Trails will not be routinely cleared of debris, bathroom facilities may not be cleaned regularly, and vegetation will begin to takeover certain areas. Once the parks appeals are blemished, the less visitors will want to enjoy them. Another huge impact that these parks have on the economy is their creation of jobs. Currently Pennsylvania state parks provide over 10,550 jobs. To the right is a chart gathered from the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association on conserveland.org. This chart shows how many thousands of jobs are created by the very Figure 3: From the PA Land and Trust Assoc. website

6 existence of state parks in Pennsylvania. If funding for these parks is cut, it is inevitable that many jobs are going to be lost. As you can observe, many of these jobs are restaurant and other retail jobs. Some may argue that cutting funding for the parks will not directly put these places out of business. The reality is that without the beautiful attractions and sites that the state parks have to offer, these places would not be able to stay in business, thus creating the loss of thousands of jobs. The parks are also wonderful environmental tools for those of all ages. With environmental plans and going green being pushed now more than ever, what better place to learn from than some of the nation s top recreation areas? Those who attend state parks are given pamphlets and brochures on proper procedures to follow while visiting the parks. Additional information about environmental issues can be found on the DCNR s website at Figure 4: PA DCNR Along with all of these benefits, comes educational impact. After one visit to any state park in Pennsylvania, it is almost a certainty that one will learn something they can use in their lifetime. A Penn State Behrend student, Jeff McDonald, who frequents Presque Isle State Park in the summer, had this

7 to say about his experience. I love coming here. It s a place I can go in the summertime with my friends, but it s also a place I can go to learn and relax. Sometimes when I get stressed out before a big test, I ll go to the beach and it really calms me down. There is so much to see out here, you learn a lot about wildlife, and since everything is protected, it s truly one of the most peaceful environments I ve been around. Many students like Jeff use Presque Isle and perhaps other parks as a release. It s a healthy way to get away from the stresses of life, and learn something while doing it. With further budget cuts, these opportunities may not be so readily available for future generations. Now that several of the unlimited benefits of these parks are out there, one can explore the tragedy of what would happen without sustained funding for the parks. In the event that a park would lose funding, the land itself would not be closed off since the land is public and owned by its taxpayers. However the resources, buildings and equipment in these areas would no longer be made available. This would mean that trails would become overrun with vegetation, causing them to provide little use for visitors. Information centers and public bathrooms would be removed, taking away from the parks educational appeal. It is impossible for a college student, or even a group of college students

8 to put a stop to the budget cuts. However, there are several things anyone can do to help these parks function to their full potential. The first and arguably the most important is to volunteer. There are hundreds of opportunities to volunteer each year at state parks i n the Erie area alone. These opportunities range from participating in trash clean-ups, to helping plan for major events. Parks are in need of volunteers now more than ever, with the hundreds of job cuts put in effect by the budget cuts. For information about how to volunteer one can check the same link given above on the DCNR website. Another way to support the parks is to take part in fundraisers. Financial donations can go a long way in helping the parks function. Parks also hold many fundraisers such as 5K runs or walks, fishing tournaments, scavenger hunts and many more. Every little donation will go towards keeping Pennsylvania s parks beautiful. The most obvious, and the easiest way to support PA state parks, is to visit them. Visit them frequently, and bring friends and family. Tell everyone you know to visit a state park near them. If people keep coming back, eventually politicians and government officials will have to realize how important

9 these parks are to Pennsylvania and all its visitors. Last year alone, the DCNR reported a 10 percent decrease in funding for parks statewide. (Youker, 2010) Although no parks have had to close thus far, the chances seem to increase as time goes on. Acting secretary of the DCNR, John Quigley, had this to say about the measures French Creek State Park is taking to cushion the blow of the budget cuts. "We are transitioning to a seasonal park service... That is a vast departure from how we've operated. (Youker 2010) This is a bad sign for parks across the state. Parks that have been open year round since their founding now have to shorten their seasons and hours of operation. The only option left is for them to shut down completely. Once this happens parks all over the state will be forced to follow suit until Pennsylvania s state park system has crumbled. The effects of this occurrence would be catastrophic to Pennsylvania s economy. With little to no revenue coming from the parks, and the loss of thousands of jobs, the economy would be even worse off than it is today. Although the task at hand is heavy, there are many things college students can do to support parks nearest you. Visit these parks, enjoy what they have to offer, and learn from their natural beauty. Volunteer at a local park cleanup, or sign up to participate in a 5k. It is impossible for one person to singlehandedly change the minds of politicians in Harrisburg and Washington, but together everyone can make a difference. Help stop budget cuts to Pennsylvania State Parks,

10 and save some of the greatest natural monuments in the entire United States.

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