Short Version of the History of Pennsylvania State Parks

Pennsylvania's state park system began in 1893 with the establishment of the first state park at Valley Forge. In the early years, the park system concentrated on preserving and protecting rare, scenic, historic and natural areas.

In 1929, legislation established the Bureau of State Parks with a commitment to provide outdoor recreation facilities in a natural setting, to preserve park areas and to provide environmental education opportunities. By 1930, the Bureau managed 13 parks and prepared the first statewide plan for the future growth of the park system.

The establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933 brought growth in the size and diversity of the park system. Thanks to the CCC, the park system now included cabins, well-defined trails and other facilities. A 1936 survey that identified a need for parks near 10 major urban areas further influenced the system's development to include parks near cities as well as remote areas. After World War II, the demand for more day use parks near urban centers continued to increase.

The greatest period of state park growth occurred between 1955 and 1970. In 1955, the park system consisted of 45 state parks and five historical parks. Department of Environmental Resources Secretary Maurice K. Goddard set a goal of having a state park within 25 miles of every citizen. Aided by two state funding programs and substantial federal funds, the system grew to 87 state parks by 1970.

Today, Pennsylvania has one of the nation’s largest state park systems with 120 outdoor recreational areas, over 291,700 acres of property, 606 full-time employees, and over 1,600 part-time employees. Yearly, the Pennsylvania state park system serves an estimated 35 million visitors.

In 1993, the Pennsylvania state park system celebrated a "Century of Service" in providing quality outdoor recreational and educational experiences for park visitors. As we begin the journey into the next century, a course has been set by the Bureau of State Parks to meet present and future visitor needs. The document entitled State Parks 2000 is based on a survey distributed to Pennsylvanians. This survey polled park visitors and professional staff on their vision of the future for Pennsylvania State Parks. State Parks 2000 further defines and updates the mission of the Pennsylvania state park system and is the guiding force in shaping and managing it.

This new guiding document is needed because the role of state parks changes and grows with society and public need. Many of the features from times past remain, but there is also an increased awareness that today's visitor has more diverse recreational and educational needs than those visitors who first appeared in our state parks nearly 100 years ago.

Many traditional facilities and resources serve as the backbone of the park system. Pennsylvania state parks offer millions of visitors each year: over 7,000 family campsites, 286 cabins, nearly 30,000 picnic tables, 56 major recreational lakes, 10 marinas, 61 beaches for swimming, 17 swimming pools, over 1,000 miles of trails and much, much more.

Pennsylvania state parks also supports an extensive environmental education program to make the citizens of the Commonwealth more aware of the world around them. Four environmental education centers -- Nolde Forest, near Reading; Kings Gap, near Carlisle; Jennings, near Butler; and Jacobsburg, near Allentown -- provide year-round environmental learning experiences for pre-school through college aged youth, in addition to a community-based environmental education program. Programs at the environmental education centers include: teacher in-service workshops, environmental learning activities for schools, environmental forums and consultant services to the educational community. Seasonal environmental interpreters and year-round environmental education specialists also provide educational programming for park visitors at 56 state park sites.

It is difficult to sum up the facilities, resources and programs of the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks in just a few paragraphs. The expanse of the system dictates a diversity that is far ranging and complex. Pennsylvania state parks also: coordinate the Pennsylvania Trails program and cooperate with the America Youth Hostels to provide simple accommodations to overnight travelers, write concession agreements for vendors operating in state parks, design and engineer facilities, perform routine maintenance on a variety of facilities, operate water and sewage treatment plants, develop comprehensive management plans, oversee an extensive volunteer and intern program and ensure the safety and security of park visitors. The Pennsylvania state park system is one which will serve the needs of all Pennsylvanians, both today and in generations yet to come.