For the last 40 years, both Democratic and Republican administrations have managed our 117 state parks almost exclusively for public recreation. Thanks to the vision of the creator of the state park system, “Doc” Maurice Goddard, there is a state park located within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian’s front door step. State parks offer a wide range of free activities – boating, swimming, hiking, bird-watching, camping – and many offer programs that educate visitors about Pennsylvania’s natural resources, wild animals, plants and trees and history.
The Corbett administration’s firing of John Norbeck, the competent, professional director of the Bureau of State Parks, raises questions about what the administration plans to with our state park system. Norbeck was a firm proponent of idea that the primary mission of the state parks is to provide quality recreation and education and making the park resources available to all Pennsylvanians and visitors from other states.
That mission has been highly successful – Norbeck’s management of the system earned a national gold medal award from the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration in 2009. The recreation focus of the parks has also been a successful economic model. In 2010, 37.9 million people visited Pennsylvania state parks and spent $859 million here. More than 9400 people worked at our state parks and the parks support more than 12,000 private sector jobs. Every dollar the state invested in running the state parks returned $12.41 to Pennsylvania’s economy.
Is the Corbett administration now on the verge of abandoning the focus on recreation and the successful economic model to allow gas drilling, timbering and mining in the parks? According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Norbeck was fired after he expressed opposition to allowing timbering in the parks. Amerikohl Mining wants to mine for limestone in Laurel Ridge State Park and Shell Oil is exploring gas drilling at Ohiopyle State Park.
The Post-Gazette reported that DCNR official Adam Gingrich said that Norbeck was fired because “the administration has decided to go in a different direction.” With John Norbeck gone, nothing stands in the way of the administration liquidating the natural assets of our parks and turning them into profits for resource extraction corporations.