Lodges in state parks? Some lawmakers want to explore the idea

Posted on: May 30, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

Blog--Park lodgesThe lodge at Bald Eagle State Park has been open for nearly six years.

How rustic does a Pennsylvania state park experience have to be? How rustic should it be?

That’s a question that’s been debated before. Now, it’s going to be again.

A pair of state lawmakers is behind legislation that would allow for the construction of resort- or hotel-style lodges – maybe bigger than ever seen — in an undetermined number of parks across the commonwealth.

Rep. Paul Costa, an Allegheny County Democrat, and a counterpart from across the aisle, Butler County Republican Brian Ellis, are cosponsors of House Bill 2013. It would allow the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to “enter in public-private partnerships to provide additional recreational activities in state parks.”

They’re talking lodges.

There’s only one such facility in the state right now. That’s the 16-room one at Bald Eagle State Park in Centre County. It opened on Labor Day of 2010 and features single- and double rooms and suites with flat-screen televisions, refrigerators and breakfast every morning.

Construction was controversial.

Sportsmen’s groups, among others, opposed the project, just as they had previous efforts to build lodges in places like Prince Gallitzin State Park in Cambria County. In general, they argued for less development in parks, not more, and pointed out that parks already offer camping in everything from tents and recreation vehicles to rustic cabins, cottages and yurts to modern cabins with electric and water.

The state went ahead, though.

Now, the lawmakers want it to recreate that elsewhere.

“Our state park system is recognized as one of the finest in the nations, with residents and visitors able to access 121 state parks across the state consisting of more than 300,000 acres,” they wrote in a memo to lawmakers seeking co-sponsors. “From our newest state park, Washington Crossing in Bucks County, to our most visited, Presque Isle on Lake Erie with four million annual visitors, we offer outdoor activities of all kinds.

“However, we lag behind neighboring states in not providing a variety of modern and improved lodging and recreational opportunities.”

The pointed out that West Virginia has a number of state parks with sizeable lodging facilities, conference centers and golfing. Ohio has similar facilities at nine of its state parks, they added.

“Pennsylvania, however, has one small bed and breakfast-type lodge at Bald Eagle State Park,” they wrote.

Their legislation would establish a board whose job would be to inventory existing state park assets and issue recommendations on where additional “recreational facilities would serve the public interest.”

“It would accept and solicit private sector offers to develop those facilities, and subsequently recommend to the department any appropriate projects that fit the natural beauty of our parks and at the same time accommodate consumer demand for a variety of natural and modern recreational activities,” the two lawmakers said.

The committee would not authorize projects on its own. But surely any recommendations would be followed up on.

Is that good or bad?

We may see. The bill has 70 cosponsors – an unusually high number — already. It was referred to the House tourism and recreational development committee for consideration.

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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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.