Balancing easier access with wilderness retreats

Posted on: April 21, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

Many roads on state game lands are gated to allow walk-in access only. Should they be? That’s up for debate.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures

What began with a narrow focus on access has broadened.

Going into fall of 2016, Pennsylvania Game Commission officials began looking at their 1.5 million acre state game land system. The idea, said Pete Sussenbach, director of the bureau of wildlife habitat management, was to see if there were opportunities to improve access for mobility-challenged hunters.

That included not only people with physical handicaps, but older hunters in general, he said. That latter crowd is growing.

Across Pennsylvania, Susenbach said, the average hunter is 55 years old, “and that just keeps ticking back, year after year.”

So the commission asked for public feedback.

What it found is that while there’s a large group of people who want better access to game lands, there’s another, equally large, group of hunters who want to maintain the remote aspect of those lands.

And the result?

The commission is now seeking ways to satisfy both groups.

“We’re looking at well-thought-out, better access than we’ve ever had, while taking into account the fact that people want to get away, they want to feel remote, and making sure we accommodate those folks as well,” Sussenbach said.

If the commission is timbering a portion of a game lands, and has roads and log landings leading to those places, it might make sense to just open them to hunters, he said.

It might also make sense to change the regulations to allow for different tools, he added. That could mean letting people trade in their ATV, or all-terrain vehicle, for a UTV, or utility terrain vehicle. Those are two-seater, off road vehicles.

“The ATV, for an individual who is truly disabled, is an extremely hard piece of equipment to try to operate on state game lands. But the UTV is a much easier way for those individuals to get around, specifically if they need someone to drive them. Those people do need some assistance,” said Sussenbach.

State forest lands, meanwhile, are managed under different designations. Some contain “wild” areas, where there’s no development of any kind.

Game Commissioner Jim Daley if Butler County asked if there are any state game lands large enough to be managed similarly. He suggested perhaps they could accommodate similar “primitive” areas, where hunters who wanted to walk in and get away could go.

Other parts of those lands, meanwhile, could still allowing for better access, he said.

Sussenbach said the commission will look into that, with a goal of satisfying hunters seeking different experiences.

“I think it’s important to accommodate both of those users. They’re both important to us,” he said.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.