By RANDY BARTLEY
Survey results announced Dec. 5 at Cook Forest State Park will help mold the future of the state park system.
Ryan Borcz, the manager at Cook Forest, shared the results of a statewide survey that will impact everything from pets in campgrounds to trails and beaches.
Borcz said it has been 25 years since the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of State Parks underwent its last strategic planning effort.
He said the goal of the new planning process is to “help guide Pennsylvania’s state park professionals in carrying out the important work of caring for the 121 state parks in our system for the next 25 years.”
The plan, “Penn’s Parks for All,” was based on a series of surveys conducted by Penn State in 2017 and 2018 to assess the attitudes and opinions of Pennsylvania state park visitors and the public regarding key issues affecting the future of the state parks.
The first priority was improving outdoor recreation opportunities.
“There is strong public concurrence for a continued emphasis on healthful outdoor recreation activities with the expectation of quiet, natural or wild experiences, with support for protective measures when park resource impacts are evident,” said Borcz. “Additionally, there was agreement that state parks should offer more active adventure experiences.”
Some things mentioned in the survey include:
– Enhancing “landscape-level” partnerships to increase connections between publicly accessible lands, with the goals of gaining outdoor recreational efficiencies and minimizing duplication of outdoor recreational services.
– Improving each park’s trail system to ensure trails are sustainable and accessible for those seeking healthy, quiet and natural experiences, with a goal to develop in every park one-trail loop that is accessible to all people.
– Enhancing water-based recreational offerings by developing innovative water facilities and activities, consistent with each park’s natural aesthetic and character.
– Improving accessibility for water-based recreation by developing canoe and kayak launch sites for people with all abilities.
– Partner with the health industry in marketing state park outdoor recreational activities as a means of reducing obesity and stress.
– Expanding overnight accommodations by renovating campgrounds to enhance their natural character while providing additional privacy, accessibility, sustainability, and safety.
– Increasing pet-friendly campsites to 50 percent of all campsites (presently 37 percent), increasing large, multi-family campsites to 50 sites statewide (presently five sites) and adding 100 more rental cabins.
– Increasing full-service campsites to 20 percent of all campsites (presently 5 percent), increasing electric-only campsites to 50 percent of all campsites (presently 47 percent) increasing remote, non-electric, walk-in sites, exploring opportunities for “boat-in” waterfront camping and examining trends for new types of overnight facilities and institute pilot projects, such as building elevated camping cottages to simulate a tree house effect.
Jessica Fisher, the assistant manager at Cook Forest State Park, said, “There was strong public concurrence for improving state park aquatic resources and terrestrial native habitats, and expanding park lands in the commonwealth for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians, and high agreement that the bureau should provide more support for volunteer efforts that assist park operations.”
One of the key elements was to increase professional staff levels by 15 percent to meet the Bureau of State Parks legislative mandate and constitutional trustee responsibilities.
To view all of the report’s findings or to comment online, visit www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks.