Maintenance projects for Pennsylvania's state parks and forests are underfunded by $1 billion, a report from the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation finds. This has created a massive backlog for fixes that include rehabilitating roads, trails and campgrounds, plugging oil and gas wells, historic preservation and acid mine drainage remediation.
Foundation President Marci Mowery said Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has been underfunded for many years, preventing the agency from fixing problems when they first pop up.
"And much like your home, if you don't repair the roof, all of a sudden you're not only repairing the roof but you're repairing the ceiling and replacing your furniture," Mowery said. "So some small projects that haven't been addressed have turned into possibly larger projects."
DCNR Spokesperson Terrance Brady said the maintenance backlog has existed since the 1990s but that recent extreme weather has made the issue worse.
"You only have to look at Point State Park, so many flooding instances," Brady said. "And what that does is draw staff away from things they could be doing and instead they're cleaning off debris."
Invasive species have also exacerbated the issue, according to Mowery.
"When we're talking about maintenance in a state forest, some of that might be more of the natural environment," she said. "Some invasive insects like the emerald ash borer are creating hazardous trees, and those are in both our state parks and state forests so you need to address those."
The DCNR's budget is one half of one percent of the annual Pennsylvania state budget. The $105 million received annually from the state's General Fund hasn't changed in 15 years, requiring the DCNR to rely more on the state's Oil and Gas Lease Fund.
According to the report, more than 40 million people visit Pennsylvania's state parks and forests each year, generating $1 billion a year for local economies.