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DCNR says it needs $1.4 billion to address infrastructure needs at Pennsylvania state parks

 Susquehannock State Park
Susquehannock State Park

Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing a $1.7 billion pandemic recovery plan, including $450 million for conservation, preservation and recreation.

But the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says it needs $1.4 billion to improve state parks and forests.

DCNR officials and advocates held a news conference Monday at Gifford Pinchot State Park in northern York County, using the park as an example to support their call for resources.

They say one way to address park and state forest needs is to direct pandemic recovery funds for park conservation.

At Gifford Pinchot, some of the infrastructure dates back to the 1960s, including its environmental learning center, which is undergoing repairs. DCNR officials and park staff said it needs millions of dollars to replace its water distribution system, improve sewage collection, build new wells, and repair dams, among other things.

“Pinchot is one of our premier parks, but it requires millions of dollars in improvements to ensure it continues to be a place that visitors can turn to as a healthy, safe respite, ” DCNR Deputy Secretary John Norbeck said.

Norbeck said the agency needs the funds to better address the impacts of climate change, support critical infrastructure and meet the high demand for outdoor recreation. He says DCNR runs infrastructure that amounts to $5 billion, including 140 dams and 8,000 roadways. About 15 percent of the 963 bridges the agency manages are rated poor, he said.

Older parks like Gifford Pinchot do not have buildings that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Norbeck said. So, infrastructure funds would be used to make parks more accessible to people with disabilities.

Marci Mowery, president of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation, said investments could help in another way.

 “The economic impact of visitor spending here at Pinchot to the local community is $13.5 million on an annual basis and supports about 176 jobs. And that’s not jobs at the park–that’s jobs around the community,” Mowery said.

DCNR says it saw a rise in visitors during the pandemic, including 47 million in 2020 and 42 million last year.

The department manages 121 state parks and 2.2 million acres of forest lands.

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Gabriela Martínez | WITF