Enjoying State Parks


Courtesy Joan Wilson


By Phil Coleman

In 1979, when Dr. Maurice Goddard concluded his illustrious career as head of what is now the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, he had nearly achieved his goal of a park within 25 miles of every citizen in the state. There are spots where you have to go 30 or so miles to find a state park, but not many of them.

Our state has rich variety in the parks. From Presque Isle with its Great Lakes setting to Ohiopyle with whitewater sport, from Rickett’s Glen with its scenic waterfalls, to French Creek, great for family camping, and Prince Gallitzin for wetlands and birding -- Pennsylvania’s parks offer beautiful variety accessible to all. Some of the parks are little more than picnic areas with a mile or so of hiking trail.  Some are primarily swimming facilities. Pittsburgh’s Point State Park is essentially an outdoor convention center. But the cumulative effect of Pennsylvania’s parks is outdoor relaxation and recreation.

Doc Goddard’s goal was not just geographic distribution. It was also democratic -- making parks accessible to all people regardless of wealth.

The result was an array of natural havens, sylvan settings where folk could relax and recreate, many with campgrounds and simple cabins rather than lodges, affordable accommodations for the state’s citizens.

Of the 117 parks, over 100 have picnic areas, 90 offer fishing, about 60 accommodate campers, 30 provide cabins, and 50 accommodate swimming. Virtually all have hiking trails and about half permit biking, Three parks accommodate downhill skiing. Two have golf courses.

Goddard believed that people were attracted to water. Many of the parks center on a stream, and some others have small to middle-sized lakes. If I find fault with Goddard, it would be in his willingness to impound a stream for a park. Pennsylvania has few naturally existing lakes but tens of thousands of miles of quality streams. These streams, lined by hemlock, laurel and rhododendron, are prototypically Pennsylvanian and provide pleasant respite during a summer outing.

Today, we find the state at a crossroads. Leaders in the governor’s office and DCNR are promoting the parks as tourism. They want to attract people from out of state to come to Pennsylvania and spend big bucks.

There is once again talk of building lodges that will be attractive to tourists and will compete with Holiday Inns or Hilton hotels in amenities. We think that the move to build a golf course at Prince Gallitzin died of its own weight. But there seems to be a feeling that just because Ohio and Maryland parks have built prestigious golf courses, Pennsylvania should as well.

Let’s point out that Pennsylvania has well over four hundred golf courses, most privately owned. A few are “PGA quality,” many are attractive in their layouts and sufficiently challenging to attract good recreational golfers. The state does not need to compete with these private enterprises. If it wants to attract people from Maryland or Ohio to play golf, it should just donate a few advertising dollars to the cause of Oakmont or Mystic Rock golf courses.

Needless to say, when resort lodges are contemplated, the interest is no longer in serving the working class. The interest is serving the wealthy. The Goddard ideal of making parks accessible to all has been eclipsed.

They have turned the fact that parks attract people from a fact to a goal.

Phil Coleman is a member of the Allegheny Group and has twice served as Chapter chair.

Published August 2005