Deferred repairs, budget cuts threaten Keystone, other state parks, officials say
If the Pennsylvania state budget were a dollar, the budget for the entire state park and forest system would be about half a penny.
Marci Mowery, president of the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation, used that example Tuesday to illustrate infrastructure and maintenance needs confronting the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“It costs more to operate one prison than the entire DCNR,” Mowery said, standing outside the maintenance building at Keystone State Park in Derry Township.
“So when we’re talking about investment in our state parks and state forests, we’re not asking for a lot of money,” she said. “It’s just a small piece of the budget pie, and we’d like to see more money invested into our state parks and state forests because we know they help to create local economies and generate revenue.”
The nonprofit foundation, which is not affiliated with the DCNR, released a report this year saying state parks and forests face a crisis of deferred maintenance to the tune of $1 billion. Although each member of the General Assembly got a copy, the report came with no clear plan for how to make up for the declines in funding.
On Tuesday, Mowery toured Keystone as a way to highlight the needs of the state park system through the lens of one park. With her were park Manager Kris Baker, park staff and members of the Friends of Keystone State Park.
Visited by an estimated 522,271 people a year, Keystone looks in good shape on the outside but has a day of reckoning coming because of deferred maintenance, Baker said.
Baker said attendance has increased by 34% since the park reopened in 2004, but staffing has gone down.
“We’ve grown by over a third, and we’ve actually reduced our staff and equipment. That, in and of itself, should start to tell you something about where we sit,” Baker said. “We could use a little more love.”
Baker said the most pressing needs at Keystone include:
• A new office building.
• An addition to the maintenance building and a pole building in which to store equipment that now sits outside.
• Road resurfacing to take care of potholes and the loss of shoulders.
• Campsite improvements, especially in the areas of drainage, campsite size and roads.
• New boat docks, including a new handicapped-accessible boat dock.
• General building improvements, including new plywood siding and new roofing.
With an annual budget of $800,000, Keystone has current infrastructure needs totaling $6.9 million, according to the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation.
In its report, the foundation tied the funding shortfall to declines in funding from state lawmakers that used to cover daily operating expenses.
Revenue generated by overnight stays in state parks, which used to pay for infrastructure projects, is now diverted to basic operations because of budget shortfalls, the report said. That has created a crisis of deferred maintenance.
“As any homeowner knows, deferring maintenance inevitably leads to higher costs in the long term,” the report said. “If certain projects related to health and safety needs are not fixed in the near term … it may result in facility closings, damage to the facility or impacts to human safety.”
The report called the shortage of maintenance funds an “invisible issue” because it’s not always apparent to the public. DCNR staff keep the parks running and continue to do more with less.
“Unfortunately, this gives the appearance of a system that can remain viable even with declining appropriation from general revenues,” the report said.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .