by Greg A. Weitzel, Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the City of Allentown and Christopher M. Kocher, President of Wildlands Conservancy, Lehigh Valley’s local Land Trust
As advocates for parks, recreation and conservation in our community, we were disheartened to learn that the state's proposed budget looks to permanently eliminate the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. If approved by our legislators, this measure would represent the largest cut of conservation funding in state history!
The Keystone Fund was es¬tablished in 1993 with overwhelming bi-partisan and general public support. Although 67% of voters approved of the Keystone Fund, in addition to the Senate vote of 48-0 and the House vote of 196-3, the Governor's proposed budget seeks to divert proceeds from this dedicated fund into general government operations, leaving zero Keystone dollars for future state-wide recreation, park and conservation projects.
No state funding program has had a greater impact on local communi¬ties than the Keystone Fund. This fund has helped support the development and rehabilitation of more than 2,600 community parks and natural areas; the creation of hundreds of miles of state, county and local trails; and the protection of more than 145,000 acres of critical open space.
In addition, over the last 19 years, the Keystone Fund has helped improve facilities in our national award-winning state park and forest systems; enabled more than 200 local libraries to expand and renovate their facilities; and helped preserve and protect more than 490 Pennsylvania historical landmarks, structures and museums.
Wildlands Conservancy and the City of Allentown have received Keystone grants totaling more than $10 million dollars to complete numerous park, conservation and land acquisition projects right here in the Lehigh Valley. Examples of some local projects include the renovation of the Cedar Creek Parkway, the acquisition of Camp Olympic, the restoration of Trout Creek and numerous regional and local trail development projects.
Without Keystone funding support, these important projects that protect our natural environment and enhance our communities might not have been completed. However, the Keystone Fund is not a handout. Every dollar awarded from the fund has triggered more than two dollars in local and private investments. That means that the Keystone Fund has helped leverage more than $20 million dollars to help improve our community and the natural resources of the Lehigh Valley.
In addition, Keystone Fund investments, in turn, generate hundreds of millions of dollars in state-wide economic activity, including increased purchasing, rising property values and creating much needed construction jobs. This is a big reduction for a state budget that is supposedly focused on jobs and economic welfare.
If the state budget proposal is approved, the end of the popular Keystone Fund would setback park, recreation and conservation policy by more than 20 years. We should be increasing, not decreasing, funding for the programs that protect Pennsylvania's rich natural resources, create low cost recreational opportunities, and stimulate community revitalization.
There is no doubt that our national, state, county and local governments are facing a financial crisis and cuts need to be made to balance budgets and restore fiscal discipline. However, completely eliminating the Keystone funding is not the answer. Cutting this program only creates an ever increasing backlog of environmental and conservation problems that will continue to impact the very health and quality of life in our communities.
Our mountains, forests, fields, farmland, parks, greenways, trails, rivers and streams -- support our economy, create healthy communities where people want to live, and provide low cost, close-to-home recreation for our families, which in turn enrich our lives.
We encourage you to find out more by going to conservationadvocate.org and join with us by reaching out to your state legislators and encourage them to do the right thing for the environment and our communities. They need to reject this proposed budget transfer and provide full and dedicated funding for the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.
Greg A. Weitzel is Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the City of Allentown. He is also Chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee for the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society and can be reached at Weitzel@allentowncity.org or 610-437-7750.
Christopher M. Kocher is the President of Wildlands Conservancy, Lehigh Valley's local Land Trust. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-965-4397, ext. 123.