Pa. Legislators Want to Put Golf Courses, Water Slides in State Parks

Recently proposed legislation calls for private development in the state's natural sanctuaries.

Two state representatives want to give Pennsylvania’s parks a makeover.

Pa. Representatives Brian Ellis and Jim Christiana are supporting bills that would allow for Pennsylvania’s award-winning state parks to open up to private golf courses, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks and water slides, among other facilities.

Ellis recently introduced a bill that would amend the 1995 Conservation and Natural Resources Act to allow development of such amenities. The bill would also establish a Public-Private State Park Partnership Board to oversee the projects.

Christiana’s proposed legislation would create the Arnold Palmer Trails Program, which would oversee construction of four in-park golf courses adhering to “the golf course design philosophy of Arnold Palmer.” Christiana wishes to obtain a license for use of the Latrobe golfer’s name.

Cori Britt, vice president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises Inc., told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the corporation had not been contacted regarding rights to Palmer’s name.

Both proposals are meeting fierce opposition from environmental organizations. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania Chapter sent a letter to the Committee on Tourism and Recreational Development, which is reviewing Ellis’ bill, advocating against proposed changes.

“Besides undermining the principle of our public lands, this legislation would result in unsustainable projects that cost taxpayers more, and hurt those providers who have made tremendous investments close by the parks who depend on park visitors,” the letter reads.

The council critiqued the proposed Public-Private State Park Partnership Board for its potential to override the already-existing Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which has the ability to accommodate private operations where appropriate.

According to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, there are already two golf courses in the parks, one built in the 1800s and another built in the 1920s. There are more than 150 concessionaires in the park system, which is widely recognized as one of the best in the country.

“We think this approach to putting developments in the parks is just wrong,” Davitt Woodwell, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, said in a video released by the council. “Are there concessions already in the parks? Yes, and there should be, and DCNR knows how to do that.”

Jeffrey Sheridan, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, said the Wolf administration is “engaged in productive conversations with Rep. Ellis regarding this legislation,” according to the Post-Gazette.

Pennsylvania’s park system attracts roughly 40 million visitors annually, generating more than $1 billion in local expenditures per year.

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