Dear Representatives, Senators, and Governor Wolf:
House Bill 2013 has been amended (P.N. 3647). Even with this change, the legislation still represents a frontal assault on Pennsylvania’s state park system, and the very reasons that it has been so successful.
Our parks are not broken – they are award-winning, generate over a billion dollars a year in economic activity, and return over $12 for every dollar invested. Those are twenty-first century numbers. Considering the array of awards bestowed upon DCNR for management and planning, it is easy to argue that our state parks are not only fully in the 21st century, they are leading the way.
With the amendment this legislation is now, marginally, less bad than it was before. The amended language now calls for a study to determine potential public-private partnerships within the parks, and for the agency to act upon that study. However, the language and perceived intent is to push for development and “pilot projects.”
The parameters of the proposed study itself are nebulous, including examination of “additional recreational, lodging, and ancillary facilities” that might be developed “to the benefit of the general public.” This is, perhaps, discussion-worthy, except that the definition of those facilities still focuses on amusement or water parks, outdoor sports facilities (stadiums?), hotels, et cetera. Further, the bill focuses almost exclusively on additional facilities without considering what is currently in place.
Nowhere in the amended legislation is it suggested that DCNR undertake a study or review of how the parks are working, what has worked (or not worked) in other states, or what is really best for the parks and for Pennsylvanians. Nor is there any consideration that the defined uses may well be best located on private lands adjacent to state parks, as so many businesses are today, or whether private development on state lands will lead to long term burden on the Commonwealth.
It also ignores the stark reality that our state lands have been starved of revenue, with decreased funding and diversion of revenues from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund – revenues that were designed for such purposes.
If the goal is really to understand the unique and vital role of state parks and what development is or is not appropriate, then fund DCNR to do a thorough review of the park system, its strengths, challenges, and opportunities, recognizing the needs of the people. Such a study would serve everyone well and provide a real basis for consideration of any proposed development in the parks, as well as the state of current concessions and leases.
This would also give an opportunity to involve the public in that discussion, something required by the General Assembly in almost every other DCNR action involving state lands. And, of special concern given ongoing state fiscal issues, such a process would daylight any fiscal concerns related to future development.
The state parks are not lands that time forgot, but they do represent a century of investment and public trust that must be treated with due consideration and care. There is no reason to rush this bill with finalization of the state budget in the hours or days ahead, nor advance a solution in search of a problem.
We ask you to table this bill, allow additional dialogue, and ensure that we are doing the right thing for the mission and values of our public lands.
PA Parks and Forests Foundation
Pennsylvania Environmental Council