State Parks plan: More pet-friendly campsites, elevated tree house-like cottages and no Wi-Fi | TribLIVE.com
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State Parks plan: More pet-friendly campsites, elevated tree house-like cottages and no Wi-Fi

Mary Ann Thomas
1965049_web1_OhiopyleFalls
Tribune-Review file photo
Falls on the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle State Park, which is the largest state park in the system at 20,632 acres.

A preliminary report on the future of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks revealed that park users want pet-friendly campsites and no Wi-Fi.

While “glamping” was not mentioned, park users do want more adventurous sleepovers by trying something new, such as building elevated camping cottages to simulate a treehouse effect.

“Penn’s Parks for All,” a preliminary report from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is basing its future plans on suggestions from the public on what they would like to see in the parks over the next 25 years.

Park usage is surging while there is a growing maintenance backlog. Visitation to state parks climbed 34% from 29 million in 1970 to 39 million in 2018.

The maintenance and rehabilitation needs top more than $500 million, due to budgets not keeping up with inflation and hiring more contractors because of staff reductions.

“The condition of state park facilities is deteriorating, with some facilities being shuttered, and some recreation activities no longer available — while demand for park use is higher than ever before,” the report stated.

That doesn’t mean that the state parks won’t entertain improvements and changes sought by the public, according to the wide array of suggested future improvements recommended in the preliminary report.

DCNR is asking the public to comment on the preliminary plan by Dec. 31. The final report will be complete in the summer of 2020.

Results of the preliminary study are based on various surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018 and proposed recommendations for more discussion.

Recommendations included:

• Enhance water-based recreational offerings by developing innovative water facilities and activities, consistent with each park’s natural aesthetic and character. An example would be developing a water/splash play area with the look of boulders and rock ledges where natural water recreation amenities are not available.

• Improve accessibility for water-based recreation by developing canoe and kayak launch sites for people with all abilities on all major recreational lakes within state parks.

• Enhance overnight opportunities in state parks by 2030, including increasing pet-friendly campsites to 50% of all campsites, which is presently 37%.

• Increase large, multi-family campsites to 50 sites statewide from the present five sites. And add more than 100 rental cabins.

• Consider some new varieties of overnight facilities, including building elevated camping cottages to simulate a tree-house effect.

• Keep it simple: According to the surveys, park users were not supportive of increasing kitchen amenities and air conditioning in cabins. Respondents were the least supportive of state parks offering Wi-Fi access to visitors. While this trend held across the overall sample, it should be noted that black and Latino respondents were far more supportive of additional on-site water, sewer, and electrical hook-ups; enhanced kitchen amenities; air conditioning; and internet access than white and Asian respondents.

• Overall, respondents were satisfied with the services and facilities at state parks, with no response dropping below “average,” and the majority of responses for every item being either “good” or “excellent.”

• No park entrance fees: Surveyed park users said that the state should increase funding to the parks to maintain, repair and improve facilities. Park users did not want increased funding by creating new fees or increasing existing costs to park visitors.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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