"Can I Get There?"

by Heidi Milbrand

Access area

photo-Art Michaels

The Conserve 2000 program was designed to increase the protection of the Commonwealth's water resources. Fishing and boating access is vital to the enjoyment and, ultimately, the stewardship of our water resources. However, access is not limited to fishing and boating. Any outdoor recreation activity you participate in means that you need to get there­you need that access. Let's examine the effects of our access on wild places while considering our burgeoning population and increased demand on our wild resources.

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the major topics of concern in the Commission's theme, "Conserve 2000." This feature explains some of the global, regional and local aspects of recreational access.

A recent article in PA Angler & Boater described The Abele Memorial Glen. The glen honors the memory of Ralph Abele, executive director of the PA Fish Commission from 1972 to 1987. He was a man of vision, honor and integrity. This vision helped protect and preserve 430 acres of woodlands, stretched along a 2.5-mile section of Class A wild trout stream where Mifflin, Union and Centre counties come together. When this land was for sale, there were interested buyers from Philadelphia. However, none of the owners was willing to sell the land to them. The locals, as well as visitors, were glad the Commission purchased the land. They appreciated that nothing would be built there. This protected area allows hunters, hikers, anglers, canoeists, bikers and birders to enjoy the area's solitude, wildlife and beauty.

This acquisition by the agency provides people with access­recreational access­to a wealth of resources that Ralph Abele fought hard to protect.

"As a conservation agency, we believe strongly in the wise use of the state's natural resources. And the agency intends to keep on that track in our concern with the resources for which we are responsible. The misuse of these resources can have an adverse effect on the whole quality of life now and in future years," Ralph Abele said.

Embracing Ralph Abele's vision, people are beginning to recognize the importance of getting involved in their local land use, water use and planning decisions. Responsible land and water use has a direct effect on preserving land and protecting habitats and water quality. Public involvement, in the form of participation, cooperation and funding, is key to protecting and preserving land for us and future generations.

Pay...or else

What's happening in North America to gain more recreational access? At many national parks, fees are imposed to park at launch ramps, to paddle rivers, to view interpretive displays at visitor centers, and to hike into the backcountry. There are two sides to the fee issue, in this case, how much you are willing to pay to gain access to your favorite boat launch or walk-in fishing spot, or how much you are willing to pay to bike a trail or climb a mountain. The "good side" of this issue includes catching up on the facility maintenance backlog and knowing that 80 percent of the fees stay with the collecting agency and are funneled back into the recreation for which they were collected. The "bad side" includes the price. To paddle the Middle Fork of the Salmon River costs $5 a day per person. The cost is $140 for a family of four to spend a week on this undeveloped river, a river whose amenities are a wood ramp at the start, a cement ramp 100 miles downstream, and pit toilets at both ends.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, money collected will be used for a variety of river corridor improvements, including repairing launch facilities, resource protection, wilderness and environmental interpretation efforts, annual operations and resource mitigation. They will also ask waterway users for suggestions on how they should allocate the money. A river that had been wild and free is no longer free. Soon it may not be wild, either.

People used to think that wild space was infinite. However, that attitude is changing. Two examples of what people are doing to ensure that lands remain free for us and our future generations include the following:


Water is not exempt from the pressure of "limited access." In September 1998, the National Park Service (NPS) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would ban personal watercraft (PWC) on most NPS-administered waters unless the activity were specifically authorized. North Carolina's Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Georgia's Chatta-hoochee National Recreation Area are the most recent to take action this way.

Battles between PWC and other user groups extend far beyond national parks. Conflicts have erupted in all areas across the United States, including wildlife refuges, public lakes, rivers and coastal areas. While recreational groups, waterfront property owners and environmental groups are all trying to gain further restriction, the PWC industry is waging an increasingly defensive battle to keep these craft on the water.

The Commonwealth­for all people

Rich and diverse, the Commonwealth comprises 45,308 square miles of tree cover, agriculture lands, open and moving water, developed land, quarries and mineland. In Pennsylvania you can find just about anything to do and see. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, Pennsylvania has more than 11.8 million people living inside its borders. However, as our population grows, our resources shrink. A study completed in Chester County cited "more land in Chester County has been impacted by development in the last 25 years than in the previous 300 years!"

Pennsylvania is not exempt from the pressure for access to our natural resources. One historical way to preserve open space is to set aside public land and waters. Over the last 150 years, Pennsylvania has developed three major public land systems and one public water system­state parks, state forests and state game lands, along with state fishing and boating areas. State parks, managed by the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, started its holding of public land in the early 20th century. Currently there are 116 state parks. The state forest system manages an additional two million acres of forest land. The Game Commission holds more than 1.3 million acres of public land. All of these lands provide preservation of natural areas and access to them.

The Fish & Boat Commission protects the state's waters and additional acreage as boating access areas. Just about everything we do affects our water, and the water affects us. There is something about water that strongly attracts humans. It is difficult to describe this feeling, and it affects everyone individually. Some are soothed by sitting by the water's edge. Attending an arts festival by a river makes you feel relaxed. Watching boat races builds excitement. Whatever that feeling is, water links rural, suburban, urban, cultural and socioeconomic areas. Water brings everyone­and everything­together.

Pennsylvania is rich in water. Considering the total amount of water, Pennsylvania is second in the nation only to Alaska. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages 17 lakes; the Bureau of Forestry has seven lakes; 53 state parks (out of 116) have launch ramps and access to water; the Fish & Boat Commission owns 49 lakes and over 300 public accesses. Annually, some 2.5 million Pennsylvanians in more than 350,000 registered boats and an estimated one million anglers take to the water. With these numbers increasing, one can see how the water resources are pressured.

Every Pennsylvanian lives in one of six major watersheds­Lake Erie, Genesee River, Susquehanna River, Ohio River, Potomac River and Delaware River. There are more than 83,000 miles of rivers and streams; 76 natural lakes give us 5,200 acres of flat water; more than 200 man-made impoundments create an additional 200,000 acres; Lake Erie gives us more than 750 square miles of big water. The Delaware River, the last free-flowing river in the Northeast, has 56 miles of tidal waters with access to Delaware Bay.

Rockville Bridge

photo-Art Michaels

Out the back door

What are we doing so that people can get to their favorite spots without having to pay a fee? In the fall of 1997, the Fish & Boat Commission launched a new initiative to develop a statewide network of scenic water trails. The network of trails provides enhanced recreational opportunities for the Commonwealth's anglers and boaters while returning significant benefits to the state's economy in travel and tourism dollars. By developing a network of water trails, the Commission will increase this economic effect while meeting the growing demand for enhanced boating and outdoor experiences. Most importantly, water trails provide an opportunity for free access and allow participants to connect with the Commonwealth's natural resources.

Boating is an increasingly popular form of outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania. The number of boats registered in the state has grown 312 percent in the last decade alone. Annually, 2.5 million Pennsylvanians take to the water in boats, with nearly 15 percent of all households owning at least one watercraft. This activity contributes more than $1.7 billion each year to the Commonwealth's economy.

Promoting the Commonwealth's waterways as water trails is a new approach for the Commission. Traditionally, the Commission provides general recreation information on all of the Commonwealth's 83,000 miles of flowing waterways and nearly one million acres of lakes and wetlands. Under the new water trail initiative, the Commission will provide specific information about designated water trails, similar to marked foot trails. Included will be directions to trail heads (boat launch and take-out points) and background about the scenic, historic and geological points of interest along the way.

Since the fall of 1997, the Commission has worked with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay to develop the Commonwealth's first official water trail, the Susquehanna River Trail, running 24 miles from Halifax to Harrisburg. The Commission has also developed a water trail program model for use with subsequent trail partners.

Another program the Commission has initiated is Adopt-an-Access. Beginning in 1996, those interested in keeping Pennsylvania beautiful were, and are still, able to team with the agency to become caretakers along one of the state's streams, rivers or lakes.

The Commission owns or operates over 300 sites that provide free access to the water for public fishing and boating. Through Adopt-an-Access, interested individuals or groups can help with routine maintenance and litter removal at these sites. Providing clean, well-groomed areas for anglers, boaters and the millions of tourists who visit, the program also serves to raise the awareness of participants about litter problems. The program allows groups or individuals to become special "caretakers" of portions of Commission access areas. Cleanup work obviously helps preserve the sites for public use. However, more importantly, it protects opportunities for recreation on the water.

Outdoor sports enthusiasts have a long history of working to keep the environment clean and, more importantly, free. They know that such efforts in the long run will pay dividends for both the natural resources and for us.

Docked boats

photo-PFBC file

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July/August 2000 Angler & Boater

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