Posted by: davepidgeon | June 9, 2009

PA State Parks: Hike on even if closed

State parks in Pennsylvania are at the center of a tug-of-war between the Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled state Senate over the budget, with nearly three dozen parks facing potential closure.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a state that isn’t facing a fiscal crisis. Pennsylvania is currently operating more than $3 billion in the red, and state officials are less than a month from the legal deadline for a mandated balanced budget. Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed a $29 billion budget, Senate Republicans have pitched one about $1.7 billion less, and state parks could be the victim.

Rendell’s administration announced about 35 parks would be closed if the Senate GOP’s budget ultimately passes because it would include $20 million in cuts to the state Department of Conservation & Natural Resources. On the chopping block – Swatara State Park, the 3,520-acre park in northern Lebanon County through which two miles of the Appalachian Trail cross.

Thru-hikers and weekend warriors should not panic, though. According to DCNR officials, Swatara and the other parks would be accessible by foot. From an e-mail written to Compass Points by Christina Novak, spokeswoman for DCNR:

If we do reach a scenario where we have to close state parks (and I hope we don’t) we would not encourage people to go there, but we could not physically keep them out.  Many of our parks have multipled entrances, there are very few with gates.

However, the bathrooms will be locked, campgrounds closed, no maintenance work such as grass mowing and trail tending, would be done.  There would be no law enforcement/safety oversight in the form of rangers.  Essentially it will be the natural resource without people to take care of the infrastructure.  So, hikers would still be able to hike along the AT.  People would be able to access our other facilities as well, just no services.

 So hike at your own risk because the nearest park ranger or staffer may be very, very far away.

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