Pa. Budget 2022: DCNR says $638M budget ask will add staff, address aging infrastructure

Pennsylvania’s state parks logged about 42.2 million visits last year, the second-highest total ever, a top official said

By: - March 3, 2022 10:21 am

Cindy Adams Dunn (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller).

Making its case for the $638 million proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf in his 2022-23 fiscal year budget, the state agency that oversees Pennsylvania’s parks and forests told a legislative committee Wednesday that it would use the funds to address a laundry list of repairs and maintenance projects and make investments in the commonwealth’s environmental future.

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn told the Senate Appropriations Committee that her agency would use the funds to address current infrastructure needs, which total more than $1.4 billion, according to the department, and complete other recreation and conservation projects.

Pointing to the increased interest in outdoor recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dunn told the committee that Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks continue to see record-high turnout. 

In 2021, Pennsylvania’s state parks logged approximately 42.2 million visits, according to Dunn, its second-highest total ever, and a more than 11.3 percent increase compared to the average of the three years leading up to the pandemic.

“Never has DCNR’s mission to conserve and sustain Pennsylvania’s natural resources for present and future generations’ use and enjoyment been more important,” Dunn said in her testimony to the committee.

However, Dunn noted, addressing the needs and wants of a growing sect of outdoor enthusiasts while also addressing the backlog of repair and maintenance projects to the state’s trails, park facilities and dams, can only be accomplished with an adequate budget. 

In his proposed budget, Wolf has allocated $900,000 to “state parks infrastructure projects,” according to state budget office documents. Additionally, Wolf has proposed a $450 million infusion to recreation, conservation and preservation programs to be paid for with money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. 

Calling it a “tremendous down payment,” Dunn said that federal funding for such projects is a starting point, but not nearly enough to address the full need.

Dunn noted that the current proposed budget would allow DCNR to add 31 staff positions. The opportunities would be spread out across maintenance and supporting roles at the agency, to park ranger positions. 

In addition to funding infrastructure projects, Dunn outlined DCNR’s other key focus areas for 2022 in her testimony, including: 

  • “Boost Pennsylvania’s economy by infusing money into local communities through grants and construction contracts while stewarding the public lands that support numerous small businesses and are the backbone of the commonwealth’s outdoor recreation industry. 
  • Ensure that public lands are safe, welcoming, and accessible for all visitors, while also working towards the goal of having a park or trail within 10 minutes of every Pennsylvanian. 
  • Bolster youth engagement and workforce development through the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps. This program offers work experience, job training, and educational opportunities to young people who complete recreation and conservation projects, helping them gain real-world experience and skills that will make them more attractive job candidates for Pennsylvania businesses. 
  • Collaborate with local stakeholders to plant thousands of trees along waterways, which will prevent costly, dangerous flooding and keep the water safe for drinking, fishing, and swimming. • Implement practices to protect Pennsylvanians and our natural resources from severe storms, invasive species, wildfires, and other impacts of climate change that threaten lives, the economy, and our natural resources.
  • Pioneer energy efficiency and sustainability practices that save money, reduce carbon emissions, and support renewable-energy jobs. (For example, installing solar arrays in state parks.)”

“DCNR faces pressing needs in our state parks and forests,” Dunn told lawmakers. “There is a documented need of more than $1.4 billion to fix and maintain the roads, bridges, dams, sewer systems, and other crucial infrastructure that allows visitors to enjoy our parks and forests safely.”

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