State and National Parks and Forests: A Great Value for Taxpayers’ Dollars

Posted by By at 18 September, at 07 : 52 AM Print

Michaux State Forest encompasses more than 87,000 acres of woodland, including a reservoir, several streams and a section of the Appalachian Trail.

The Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website still claims about 85,000 acres, but I think that does not include 2,500 acres purchased from Glatfelter’s paper company circa 2008 and donated to the state.

The $13 million purchase was a joint effort of several government and non-government agencies, including the Land Conservancy of Adams County, Adams County taxpayers, the U.S. Forest Service and The (non-profit) Conservation Fund. It included a huge effort in Adams County to garner – by, it turned out, a 2-to-1 margin – support for a bond that would help the county pay its share toward the purchase.

Back in the day, paper companies often owned the woods they harvested, and so it was with Tree Farm #1, the first tree farm in Pennsylvania. But 20 years, plus or minus, is a long time to pay taxes on land while it grows trees large enough to use in making paper, and the company decided to “divest” itself of the economic weight.

A residential developer had approached the township in which most of the tree farm lay, with a plan to turn the mountainside tree farm into five-acre parcels of private property, complete with publicly supplied water, sewage and paved roads.

The development almost certainly would have cost taxpayers in that portion of the county at least $13 million for a new wastewater treatment plant, and likely a new public well or two, that would be made necessary by the new homeowners. A new plant in an adjacent township, serving only 300 customers, cost more than $7 million in 2009.

Add to the new wastewater treatment plant expenses incurred by new road maintenance, as well as new school buses and new and longer school bus routes – the money spent on retaining a natural water filtration system that would provide outdoor recreation for area residents was a smart decision.

I spend many hours hiking in Michaux. For those such as I, with a dog who craves wandering through the woods, there are a plethora of trails and logging roads, many of the latter gated so there is little chance of one’s reverie being interrupted by a motor vehicle.

I’ve enjoyed state and national parks and forests for many years, in several states. In the early 1970s, one of my favorite recreation areas was Los Padres National Forest. Several weekends a year I went there to explore, and one week each year, I hunted there with a friend. We would pick up a tub of Kentucky Fried and a case of diet sodas (to make up for the KFC) and head into the woods, to swim in a pool about 20-minutes in hiking boots from the camping area.

I lived on Adak Island, Alaska, for two and-a-half years, and hiked and hunted caribou on that treeless expanse. It was there I began my environmental writing career.

One of my most memorable trips was by motorcycle from Virginia to Maine in 1985, with my then 12-year-old son. Our first night was at Locust Lake S.P., near Mahanoy City.

We arrived at night and found a place to camp. Next morning, a park ranger told us of a restaurant in town – Angela’s, I think was the name – populated mostly by older folk largely involved in telling each other stories of the area history.

At least as they remembered it.

We had breakfast, and took someone’s advice to stop at Blaschak’s coal operation a mile or so down the road. We found the remains of a strip mining operation, including a huge drag-line shovel for scraping first the dirt from atop the coal, then the coal itself.

Then we found a fellow working at the breaker, and he invited the youngster for a look. We went home with a sample bag of coal, each piece named according to size: Buckwheat (the tiniest), Barley, Rice … Nut and Stove.

I stopped in Mahanoy City on another trip a few years later. The state park still had a place to camp, and the restaurant was still in town, and so, too, the old men. A couple of them remembered me – as the guy with the motorcycle and the boy-child who clung to their stories.

Another night, we weathered a horrendous, all-night thunder and lightning downpour in a lean-to, courtesy of Allis State Park, off I-89 near Montpelier, VT.

My wife and I spent many weekends in state parks in Maine and other states.

And now I live in south-central Pennsylvania, within easy driving distance of 87,000 acres of forest land. I paddle a canoe between mountains enclosing nearly two billion gallons of crystalline water to make Long Pine Run Reservoir – according to the Borough of Chambersburg, for which the reservoir is a prime water supply.

Turning that portion of wilderness into a water reservoir for Chambersburg was a great idea. Adams County selling it to Chambersburg? Not so much. Thus, it is the only reservoir in Adams County, and belongs to a town in neighboring Franklin County.

Nonetheless, the lake and the land around it offer outdoor recreational opportunities to hikers, campers, hunters, fishermen – did I mention hikers? – lovers, joggers, three off-road bicycle races a year and plenty of unpaved, un-built-on land through which summer rain and winter snow may filter to resupply the drinking water needs of several hundred-thousand residents who live around it.

And it’s virtually maintenance free, which is more than can be said for a new wastewater treatment plant.

Photo by Ted Van Pelt


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This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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