Harrisburg – September 15, 2020 – At the request of Senator Lindsey M. Williams (D-Allegheny), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a virtual public hearing on ways to help manage and support the growing public interest in outdoor recreation during the pandemic.
“Access to outdoor recreation is always important, but during the pandemic, there has been explosive growth in outdoor activities,” Williams said. “The legislature needs to make sure that these programs are funded and supported, instead of being used as a political football. The mental and physical health benefits of the free, accessible public spaces throughout the Commonwealth are unmatched, and we need to preserve these spaces for all Pennsylvania residents.”
Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh) added, “We often hear the term ‘new normal.’ Well, the increased interest in outdoor recreation at Pennsylvania State Parks and local outdoor spaces is a positive new normal and one we should all embrace and support.”
According to Boscola, attendance at outdoor recreation venues has swelled. She said people are camping, hiking, biking, swimming and boating in record numbers. State park visits in May have vastly increased compared to 2019.
“Bicycle sales are up more than 120%. Kayak sales are up by 85%. Camping reservations are up 85%. Over 45 million people have visited our state parks so far this year well over the 37 million visitors in all of 2019,” Jacquelyn Bonomo, President and CEO of PennFuture, said.
Williams and Boscola said the hearing was aimed at gathering feedback on how the pandemic has impacted Pennsylvania’s parks and recreational venues. They also wanted to get input on what state lawmakers can do to help manage and provide resources.
However, Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Cindy Adams Dunn, said that this increase in usage of outdoor spaces puts an increasing strain on the financial resources of her department.
“Investments in our conservation and recreation resources are essential to meet the growing demand. DCNR faces a documented need of more than $1 billion in state parks and forests to fix and maintain the roads, bridges, dams, sewer systems, and other crucial infrastructure that allows visitors to enjoy our parks and forests safely; more visitors will put an even greater strain on this infrastructure,” Dunn said.
Dunn also said that despite recent talks of requiring fees for the uses of state parks, DCNR views free and accessible use to recreation outdoors as a fulfillment of the promise in the Pennsylvania Constitution that residents of the state have an identified right to these natural resources.
Dunn also said that for every $1 invested in Pennsylvania natural resources and environmental infrastructure, the state economy sees a $12.41 return on that investment.
Bonomo of PennFuture said that investments in Pennsylvania natural resources and environmental infrastructure is an investment in the jobs and tourism of our state, “These natural places—and the public investments that have protected and managed them—have also had profound impacts on our state economy. The Outdoor Industry Association estimated that outdoor recreation businesses generated over $29 billion in economic activity and support 250,000 jobs. Our state parks, under normal times, underpin over $1 billion in economic benefit.”
“As we face the reality of living in a world where COVID-19 or other infectious diseases could be with us through several seasonal cycles, we must do everything we can to cleverly adapt outdoor spaces to accommodate new users and uses. Flexibility and rapid deployment will be key to implementing changes like temporary street closures, popups and tenting, movable amenities, and signage in response to the changing conditions of a pandemic,” Matt Galluzzo, President and CEO of Pittsburgh based organization Riverlife, said.
Pennsylvania has had over 145,000 positive cases of COVID-19, and there have been almost 8,000 deaths attributed to the virus. Medical experts have advised that mitigation measures, like proper social distancing and mask wearing, are the best defense against COVID-19. Boscola said the explosive interest in outdoor recreation demonstrates that “citizens are trying to be responsible, safe and do their part to help mitigate this deadly virus.”
The following testified at today’s hearing:
- Jacquelyn Bonomo, President & CEO, PennFuture
- Matt Galluzzo, President & CEO, Riverlife
- Kelsey Ripper, Executive Director, Friends of the Riverfront
- Valerie Beichner, President & CEO, Venture Outdoors
- Timothy Schaeffer, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
- Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
- Darla Cravotta, Director of Community Relations & Special Projects, Allegheny County
- Catherine Qureshi, Chief Operating Officer, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
- Frank Maguire, Program Director, Trails and Recreation, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D- Allegheny), and Senators Maria Collett (D- Bucks/Montgomery), Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), and Tim Kearney (D- Chester/Delaware) also attended this hearing.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee has already held many hearings related to COVID-19, including the reopening of schools, the impact on nursing and veterans homes, food supply chain disruptions, the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the African American Community, maternal mortality during COVID-19, pandemic-related funding for childcare centers, the impact on restaurants/taverns and assuring that protective equipment and other support is accessible for all frontline workers.
A full recording of this hearing, and links to all previous hearings, is available at senatorboscola.com/policy.