Have fun at state parks, but avoid too much dam fun

FAYETTEVILLE – Since the COVID-19 pandemic began this spring, people have been flocking to state parks to enjoy the outdoors. But not all park visitors are following the “Leave No Trace” policy.

Earlier this week, Caledonia State Park officials made a plea on social media to remind park-goers to be respectful of nature.

“Lately, our rangers have been finding structures made of natural materials—shelters, makeshift blinds, rock fire pits, rock stacks, rock dams—in the park. While we are happy people are getting outside, these structure-building activities hurt our natural resources, and go against the Leave No Trace principles,” the post read. “We would like people to enjoy nature and the beauty it provides naturally, with as little human intervention as possible. So when you come to our park, avoid building rock dams in our stream to protect the organisms that live there, and when practicing shelter building, use existing downed wood and return the area to what it looked like when you arrived, so the next visitor can see nature in its most natural form, and we can protect the park’s wild character.”

Simple things like building a rock dam in the Conococheague Creek, while fun for kids is actually dangerous to the environment.

“If you really think about it, a lot of smaller animals and insects live under those rocks and as we move them around, we disturb that for those critters,” explained John Norbek, DCNR deputy secretary of Parks and Forestry. “In our waterways, if folks are damming up the creek, you slow the water down so it raises the water temperature and it does change the small ecosystem. It’s not a good idea to move stuff around like that. It does change the environment and make it less conducive for those critters who are living there.”

Other prohibited behaviors include digging trenches and building structures including fire rings.

“We’ve had a very dry summer,” Norbek said. “We’ve experienced a number of fires. We ask folks not to start fires to help us out and keep the parks safe.”

Pennsylvania has 121 state parks. During May, June, and July, the state park system saw increases of more than a million visitors each month over the same periods last year, representing monthly visitation increases systemwide of as much as 36 percent, with some parks seeing 50 to 100 percent more visitors.

But they’ve also seen more trash.

“Our staff has done a phenomenal job on the frontline welcoming people to the outdoors and taking care of the places. It has gone very well in general, but we’ve just seen too much trash,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, DCNR secretary. “Take your trash with you.”

State parks will remain open after Labor Day and, although swimming pools will close Tuesday, DCNR is extending swimming seasons at some state park beaches—including Pine Grove Furnace and Cowan’s Gap state parks—into September to offer additional opportunities to cool off if the weather remains warm.

To find out which park beaches will remain open, visit www.dcnr.pa.gov.

Dunn said those who plan to visit a state park this weekend should remember a few things.

“Have a mask with you. If you go into a building like a bathroom, you must wear your mask,” Dunn said.

She also reminded people to use caution when choosing recreation.

“This is not the time to expand your horizons radically and pick up something you’ve never done. Stay within your capability and recreate safely,” Dunn said. “If you’re not a rock climber, maybe this isn’t the time to try it. This isn’t the time to get yourself a trip to the ER. Our first responders don’t need extra business right now.”