Screw the birds, bears and trees, these Pa lawmakers want to liven things up and maybe rake in some dough.
Don Hopey reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania’s award-winning parks could be better if golf courses, hotels. inns, restaurants, amusement parks, water slides and other outdoor sports facilities were available inside the parks, according to two Republican state representatives who have introduced legislation that would open the tent flap to such development.
Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler, has proposed amending the 1995 Conservation and Natural Resources Act to allow development of all of those recreational and lodging amenities, along with the establishment of a new politically appointed Public-Private State Park Partnership Board to propose and oversee development projects.
And Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, introduced legislation Monday that would create the Arnold Palmer Trails Program to obtain a license for the use of the Latrobe golfer’s name and oversee construction of four in-park golf courses that reflect “the golf course design philosophy of Arnold Palmer.”
Mr. Ellis’ proposal, H.B. 2013, which was referred to the Committee on Tourism and Recreational Development Tuesday and could be rushed to a vote by the full house, drew strong opposition from environmental organizations, which said the park development proposals do not support the conservation and outdoor recreation mission of the parks and could usurp the professional judgement of park managers.
A letter to the house committee members sent Monday by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania Chapter, noted that the state’s 121 parks are “an incredibly valuable asset” providing a multitude of affordable, healthful outdoor recreation opportunities, while “conserving important natural, scenic, aesthetic and historical values.”
The letter noted that the state park system, which attracts 40 million visitors a year, generates more than $1 billion in local expenditures annually, and won a National Gold Medal for recreation and management excellence in 2009-11 from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association.
Asked if Gov. Tom Wolf supports the parks development legislation, his spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan, issued a statement saying, “The administration is engaged in productive conversations with Rep. Ellis regarding this legislation. We will continue working with him to reach agreement on the language.”
Mr. Sheridan declined to respond to specific questions about whether the legislation is part of a budget deal to sell off development rights in state parks and create a new revenue stream, or the widespread opposition to the proposal by environmental organizations.