Pennsylvania’s Governor Josh Shapiro and state officials recently visited Connellsville in Fayette County to share good news for outdoor recreationists, news that holds promise for developers of RV and boat storage, as well. During a brief ceremony it was revealed that the state has budgeted $112 million in fiscal 2023-24 to improve state parks with a hefty backlog of maintenance, and to spark economic development in the outdoor recreation sector.
With a population of about 7,000, this small town in the Laurel Highlands has a hotel and loads of amenities. The attraction: the outdoors, specifically the 150-mile-long Great Allegheny Passage that runs along the Youghiogheny River. More than 100,000 cyclists pass through each year, and Connellsville’s economy has grown in tandem with them. This is what the state would like to see happen to more towns.
“Pennsylvania is full of great parks and outdoor places like this,” Governor Shapiro said. “But we wanted to be specifically in Connellsville because this is a great example of how it all comes together, how outdoor recreation can lift up a community, can create jobs and economic opportunity. It’s also just fun.”
“It’s our public lands and trails that are the backbone that supports our outdoor recreation economy,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who was among a bevy of guests and speakers Thursday at Yough River Park in Connellsville
The governor added that when he travels throughout the state with his family, he asks Dunn to pick a trail or park for them to visit. Thanks to her choices for outdoor recreation, he fondly calls her “Fun Dunn.”
Having the secretaries of DCNR and DCED on hand illustrates their collaboration to grow outdoor recreation and business development, Shapiro said. “We understand a critically important way to create jobs, to grow the economy, is to make sure to marry up outdoor recreation with the work DCED does. We’re tearing down the silos and stovepipes in state government that stop progress.”
Money in the state budget for parks and related economic development will also boost the new state Office of Outdoor Recreation, headed by Nathan Reigner.
Outdoor recreation added $14 billion to the state’s gross domestic product in 2021 and accounted for 152,000 jobs and 1.6% of the state’s total economic productivity, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
State and local officials would like to see more than that — much more.
“Outdoor recreation is more than a nice day outside with family and friends,” Reigner said.
Among the businesses supporting outdoor enthusiasts are hotels, campsites, restaurants, markets and outfitters. Additionally, regional businesses are designing and manufacturing outdoor equipment, Reigner said.
“We need to connect our businesses and communities,” he said. “Our cost of living is low and our traffic is minimal. Pennsylvania is a great place to live and start a business.”
This story appeared in the Pittsburg-Post Gazette.