Speaking from Shikellamy State Park, which needs some $56 million in upgrades, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said on Oct. 8 that many parks in the aging system “are increasingly facing operating challenges because of infrastructure needs.”
At Shikellamy State Park, which spans 54 acres in Union and Northumberland counties, those needs include “a deteriorating marina building, parking lot disrepair, riverbank erosion, impacts from flooding, and other green infrastructure needs,” according to the department.
DCNR spokesperson Wesley Robinson told the Capital-Star that the situation at Shikellamy State Park is indicative of a larger funding issue as the facilities at the commonwealth’s state parks age.
“The facilities are all around 50 years old and that’s something that we see at a number of parks,” Robinson said. “That need is about $14 million.”
The rest of the need, Robinson said, is made up of dams managed by DCNR and other water-related infrastructure needs.
With limited funding to go around the state park system, Robinson said some repairs and infrastructure needs have had to be prioritized over others.
“We have had to prioritize certain projects and those determinations are made by safety concerns/the ability [to] continue operating a park or specific amenity,” Robinson told the Capital-Star.
The agency received more than $140 million in this year’s state budget, up 4.45% from last year’s state budget.
Pennsylvania’s state parks have seen a record number of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only exacerbated the need to invest in the growing infrastructure repairs, Dunn said on Oct. 8.
State Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) has previously introduced legislation that would have allowed DCNR to charge visitors an entrance fee, arguing that it would have helped the state agency fund vital repairs and projects.
“We’re not looking to gouge people,” Heffley said of the bill last summer, “we’re just looking to create some revenue.”
The proposal died in the 2019-20 legislative session and has not been reintroduced this session.
In August, the Wolf administration announced a long-term strategic plan for Pennsylvania’s state parks called “Penn’s Parks for All.”
The plan, which will be implemented over the next 20 years, identifies areas for improvement, key areas of concern for visitors and details ways to modernize aging park facilities, but does not provide funding for said projects.
“More and more people have flocked to the outdoors during the pandemic and we’re seeing many of them return,” Dunn said in a statement. “Investing in the outdoors provides healthy, safe recreational opportunities and boosts a key part of Pennsylvania’s economy. It is crucial we do not miss this opportunity to address our infrastructure needs so that the outdoors continue to be a destination for millions of Pennsylvanians and out-of-state visitors.”
Cassie Miller is an associate editor at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.