Resorts, golf courses for Pa. state parks?
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering legislation that would open up state parks to resort development and golf courses.
“We lag behind neighboring states in not providing a variety of modern and improved lodging and recreational opportunities,” said Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler County, and Paul Costa, D-Allegheny County. “West Virginia, for example, has a number of state parks with sizeable lodging facilities, conference centers and golfing. Ohio has similar facilities at nine of its state parks. Pennsylvania, however, has one small bed and breakfast-type lodge at Bald Eagle State Park.”
Ellis and Costa are co-sponsoring legislation (House Bill 2013) that the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee approved 22-4 on Tuesday. Committee members Rob Kauffman, R-Chambersburg, and Dan Moul, R-Gettysburg, voted with the majority. The bill currently is in the Rules Committee.
Environmental groups are opposing both HB 2013 and HB 2188, which calls for the development of at least four golf courses in state parks. PennFuture, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment, Pennsylvania Forest Coalition and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania say the real issue is the growing backlog of projects in state parks while the legislature diverts funds away from them.
HB 2013 would allow hotels, inns, restaurants, amusement parks, water parks, outdoor sports facilities, golf courses, swimming pools and recreational office buildings in state parks. The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would contract a private company to develop, finance, build and operate a facility for up to 25 years.
The Public-Private State Park Partnership Board would be established to inventory state park assets, recommend additional facilities and solicit private offers for development.
HB 2013 would encourage development in areas originally intended as “access to the natural world and healthy outdoor recreation,” according to Marci Mowery, president of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation. Such non-traditional use of state parks has not been supported by recent public surveys.
DCNR funds also would be diverted from needed upkeep of existing facilities to planning and overseeing the new facilities, she said.
“Resort-like developments have a long history of failure in state parks across the nation,” Mowrey said. “Too often, concessionaires do not reinvest in the infrastructure they are renting, placing a burden on the taxpayer to do so. And the creation of a contractual relationship through a public-private partnership is not a guarantee of success.”
Ellis and Costa say any developments will “fit the natural beauty of our parks and at the same time accommodate consumer demand” for modern recreational activities.
Pennsylvania has 121 state parks covering more than 200,000 acres. The nationally acclaimed state park system annually attracts 40 million visitors.
Jim Christiana, R-Beaver County, is sponsoring HB 2188, which requires the state to contract for the design, construction and management of golf courses at select state parks.
The golf course revenue stream would be separate from other DCNR programs.
The Department of General Services with DCNR, would call for proposals within 6 months for at least four golf courses, consistent with the Arnold Palmer design.
The Arnold Palmer Trails Program would honor a Pennsylvania native “who has had a global impact on the sport of golf,” according to Christiana. It would increase tourism and “diversify and encourage avid use of our state parks.”
The state parks currently have are more than 150 public-private partnerships for concessions and other facilities.