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Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Pennsylvania outdoor recreation: What's the plan?

Last week, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced that it would hold three public meetings this week on Pennsylvania’s next Outdoor Recreation Plan, and will accept written comments on the plan until October 31.

Question: What is Pennsylvania’s Outdoor Recreation Plan, and why does it matter?

Answer: The Plan, also known as the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (or “SCORP”), is a document that the Commonwealth is required to prepare every five years for it (and its municipalities) to be eligible for grants under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCFA), a Federal law that provides funding for state and local outdoor recreation projects. The purpose of SCORPs is to ensure that states have actual strategies and goals for outdoor recreation, and will make good use of LWCFA grants.

The new Pennsylvania SCORP must be approved by the National Park Service (NPS), and by law has to include “an evaluation of the demand for and supply of outdoor recreation resources and facilities” in Pennsylvania and a “program for implementation.” The SCORP also must “specifically address wetlands within that State as an important outdoor recreation resource.” And the governor must certify that “ample opportunity for public participation in plan development and revision has been accorded.”

The LWCFA has been good to Pennsylvania. Since 1965, the year the Act was passed, the Commonwealth and its municipalities have received 1,441 LWCFA grants totalling more than $164 million to acquire and develop lands for outdoor recreation purposes, and to support recreational planning – and the grants have supported outdoor recreational opportunities on more than 82,000 acres of Pennsylvania public land. A good SCORP is a big deal.

In reviewing the new draft SCORP, PennFuture will be curious to see what (if anything) it says about gas development. In 2009 and 2010, the DCNR leased more than 11,000 acres of LWCFA-supported State Forest lands for unconventional gas drilling. Very possibly this was illegal because gas development activities are industrial, and the LWCFA requires NPS approval (which the DCNR didn’t get) to convert LWCFA-supported lands to non-recreational uses.

That’s a subject for another blog post. Meanwhile, if you live in the Pittsburgh area and care about outdoor recreation, attend the DCNR’s public meeting on Thursday, October 9 at the Schenley Park Skating Rink on Overlook Drive. (Regardless of where you live, you can submit comments on the draft SCORP at the DCNR's website until October 31). The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is hosting, and there will be a disc golf demonstration. Just don’t try to test your skills later in one of the State Forest areas leased for gas drilling.

Mark Szybist is staff attorney for PennFuture and is based in Wilkes-Barre.