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State parks get big boost, but need more

Plus: Taylor Swift fans' ticket-buying woes inspire state legislation

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This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

September 28, 2023
👋 Hey McKean County readers! The Spotlight PA State College team will be in Kane tomorrow (Sept. 29)! Drop by Root Bar (63 N. Fraley St.) between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to chat with us about what local issues are important to you. Coffee is our treat! 
Inside this edition: Pa. budget invests in state parks and forests, Taylor Swift fans’ ticket-buying woes inspire state legislation, and jailbreaks aren’t as common as recent events imply.
Commonwealth Media Services

Pennsylvania lawmakers set aside $112 million to sustain and improve state parks and forests in this year’s budget, one of the commonwealth’s most significant investments in outdoor infrastructure in decades.

While officials celebrated the infusion as a “tremendous down payment” toward enhancing the experience at Pennsylvania’s 124 state parks and 20 forests, the amount represents a fraction of the estimated $1.4 billion needed to fully address a backlog.

The state’s conservation and natural resources department said it could take some time for new improvement projects to come to fruition. Though parks and forests have received some funding for improvements in the past year, rising maintenance costs have eclipsed state spending.

This outpacing has left the state agency that manages more than 2 million acres of parks and forests across Pennsylvania unable to sufficiently maintain and update facilities.

Additionally, to meet sustainability goals, the department has added to its list of needs in recent years, keeping its backlog at $1.4 billion. So now, the needs list, which is maintained internally, includes $900 million in infrastructure repairs and $500 million in green energy projects.

To calculate the $1.4 billion backlog, the department’s Bureau of Facility Design and Construction conducts on-site safety inspections throughout the year, Wesley Robinson, a department spokesperson, told Spotlight PA.

The inspections help determine which updates the department should prioritize. The fixes can range from replacing older buildings and structures such as lifeguard stations and visitor centers to installing new shower houses on campgrounds. The agency also uses its funding for dam repairs, stormwater management, road paving, solar array construction, and trail extensions.

“It takes a little bit to get projects up to speed, whether that’s going through the bidding process, dealing with contractors, all those sorts of things,” Robinson said. “The main thing is patience.”

Taxpayer dollars don’t always fund repairs and maintenance at state parks and forests. In some cases, volunteers and private groups step in.

The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, a nonprofit, maintains a needs list for public facilities and fundraises to get them addressed. A campground and bike repair station that opened at Ohiopyle State Park last month was underwritten by a grant from the foundation and donations.

Other examples on the foundation’s list include funding and labor for tree planting at Reeds Gap State Park in Mifflin County. The state is working to resurface the same park’s main road.

Though outside fundraising efforts are helpful, Marci Mowery, the foundation’s president, told Spotlight PA, regular public investments and long-term planning from the state would better help maintain parks and forests. She described the systems as “the goose that lays the golden egg” for statewide tourism and business revenue.

Pennsylvania parks hosted 40 million visitors in 2020, a 22.4% increase from the previous year. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says that attendance has remained steady since the pandemic, reporting 42 million visits in 2021 and 38 million last year.

Marley Parish, rural affairs reporter

“If the intent is that consumers don’t get roped into speculative ticket sales, that's one thing. If it’s designed to put the state's thumb on the scale of competition in favor of the dominating ticketing platform, then that’s the problem.”

—John Breyault, vice president of public policy, telecommunications, and fraud for the National Consumers League, on Pa.'s Taylor Swift-inspired legislation
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» Pa. lawmakers are still trying to finish the budget 3 months after the deadline

» Judge tells Delaware County to accept in-person votes from residents whose mail ballots were rejected

» Jailbreaks in Pennsylvania are not as common as recent events imply

» Pa. bills to respond to Swiftie ticket woes could have unintended consequences, advocates warn


» STORY FEST: Spotlight PA is participating in Philly Story Fest, a first-of-its-kind festival that brings together storytellers from across the city on one stage. Join us Thursday, Oct. 5 from 7-10 p.m. at the Bok building in South Philadelphia (1901 South 9th St.). Tickets are $25 and available here.

» PATH TO EQUITY: Join Spotlight PA for its first in-person summit on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. Spotlight PA is co-presenting this event with Color & Culture, a Pennsylvania marketing firm. Tickets are now on sale at this link until sold out.

» ELECTION 101: Join Spotlight PA’s government reporters Kate Huangpu and Stephen Caruso on Thursday, Oct. 12 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on Pa.’s 2023 judicial candidates. Register for the event here and submit your questions to
Daniel Fishel / For Spotlight PA
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Cemetery Hill at McAlevys Fort, Huntingdon County via Ken H.

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» NCPA: Williamsport police change mental health response
» Mirror: Nurse files suit against Blair prison
» NCPA: DCNR experts offer fall foliage tips
» WPSU: PA Wilds Media Lab opens in Kane
» CDT: University Park Airport receives $5.45M in federal funds
» SC: Traffic delays expected as I-99 roadwork begins
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» Sept. 29: Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway perform at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell in Union County.

» Sept. 29-30: Arts and crafts vendors, food, and antique cars highlight the Falling Leaves Festival in downtown Coudersport, Potter County.

» Sept. 30: State College, in Centre County, hosts its Downtown Fall Fest, feature free pumpkins for kids, pony rides, and other activities.

» Sept. 30: The Fiber ArtsFest Market Place at the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds celebrates the “world of fiber” with animals, demonstrations, activities, and more.

» Sept. 30: Penn State’s Great Insect Fair features games, interactive activities, face painting, and more.
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