If we love it, why destroy it

Kids splashing in Carbaugh RunI once worked with a man whose wife’s idea of “roughing it” was a Holiday Inn without a swimming pool. He liked to hunt and fish. She, obviously, did not. The result was infrequent family trips to the forest, a problem for which 59 Pennsylvania legislators have a solution.

Close your eyes and imagine Caledonia State Park with a Sleepy-Time Motel & Conference Center, swimming pool and a paved parking lot adjacent to Thaddeus Stevens’ forge, and meeting rooms named for the trees and critters chased away by construction. Camping areas are replaced by a theme park, including a water flume or two wending their way past Stevens’ furnace. A shuttle service carries folks to a wide spot on the Appalachian Trail, where they enjoy box lunches provided by conference center tour guides.

What could make it happen is an Act “providing for Public-Private State Park Partnership Pilot Program.” House Bill 2013, sponsored by 51 Republicans and 8 Democrats, would point the way toward outfitting our state parks with “additional recreational, lodging and ancillary facilities, (defined as) hotels, inns, restaurants, amusement or water parks, outdoor sports facilities, golf courses, swimming pools or other public recreational facilities, or maintenance structures or facilities necessary to support additional facilities.”

I once lived in a state a bit north of my current home, where an enterprising group built a huge enclosure outside one of the state’s larger towns. In it, they kept live moose so that tourists could stop in and see Bullwinkle in his Native Habitat. (Drivers on Route 201 could attest to a more native habitat alongside, an sometimes in the middle of, the artery running down the length of the state.)

New Hampshire essayist David Mills recently wrote about visitorship at our national parks, noting for instance: “Glacier National Park received over 1,680,000 visitors when I visited in 2001 and over 2,366,000 visitors in 2015. These high visitation levels are hard to believe when one is hiking one of the park’s many remote trails. The hordes of tourists don’t spend much time in the back country, if they even get there in the first place. They … may take a short hike from their car, or ride the boat on Saint Mary Lake, but most never really experience the park’s wildness.”

In their memo explaining the purpose of the bill, Rep. Brian L. Ellis, R-Butler County, and Rep. Paul Costa, D-Allegheny County,  pointed out other states already have turned state parks into commercial resorts. To be sure, about 12 miles from my home, Caledonia State Park – 1,125 acres at the edge of Michaux State Forest – features a large swimming pool with water slides, picnic pavilions and an adjacent 18-hole golf course. It also has miles of trails, including the Appalachian Trail.

We need the woods, especially for its assistance as an air cleaner and water supply. If the next generation is to preserve its world, it needs to know what needs preserving. A relatively short walk on a foot trail can reveal a wide variety of flora, fauna, viewscape – and water supply – on which to feast one’s mind.

Keeping Mom, Dad and the kids in air conditioned comfort in their home away from home is not a way for them to experience the source of their sustenance, though

HB 2013 was defeated June 28, with 123 voting in opposition and 77 – including our own Rep. Dan Moul  – voting in favor. A procedural maneuver makes likely the proposal’s reconsideration.

Pennsylvania has a wealth of beautiful state parks – a model for the nation, say the sponsors of HB 2013.

But if they love the parks, why are they so eager to destroy them?

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