Pennsylvania's state parks have been much in the news, and the news usually hasn't been good. Last year's budget crisis threatened some of them with closure. Meanwhile, legislators were busy opening state parkland to natural-gas exploration -- which environmental advocates contend threatens them with pollution and overdevelopment. It's all the more reason to celebrate Our State Parks: Western Pennsylvania, a handsome new book of photographs by Christopher T. Rolinson. The book emphasizes what there is to treasure in our end of a commonwealth whose natural beauty is often overlooked.
Rolinson, who teaches photography at Point Park University, shot the color images in this compact, 142-page volume over the past few years. But the book -- including his brief essays describing the land he's explored on foot and by canoe -- reflects intimate knowledge gained in a lifetime of outdoors experience. The 30 parks documented range from the lawns of our own wholly domesticated Point State Park to the stands of 200-year-old white pines in Northwestern PA's Cornplanter State Forest.
But even as Rolinson beautifully captures the bright blue sky and green foliage reflected in Hell Creek as it traverses a shady limestone flume in McConnell's Mill State Park, this is an all-terrain, all-seasons kind of book. So picturesque sunsets and dazzling autumn foliage keep company with the early spring fog blanketing the upper Allegheny -- and the wind-blasted snowfields of Blue Knob State Park. Then there are surprises like the stunning Frankfort Mineral Springs, in Raccoon Creek, and the beauty of newly minted Erie Bluffs State Park. (Who knew?)
I did find myself wishing Rolinson had supplied a map or two. And at about 8 inches square, this small-format book (which Rolinson self-published through his own StartPointMedia) seems a little pricey at $56.95. But the clean printing and glossy stock make it a pleasure.
A companion gallery exhibit to Our State Parks hangs at the Father Ryan Arts Center (420 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks) until Feb. 27. At 6:30 p.m. on Fri., Jan. 29, Rolinson hosts a book signing at the Center (412-771-3052).