66% of Pennsylvanians agree that state lawmakers should prioritize the funding of forests and parks in the state, according to the latest state poll of likely voters.
The agreement was broad-based and bipartisan, with the majority of voters being included regardless of political affiliation, age, gender, location, or ethnicity.
“Pennsylvanians – no matter who they are, where they live, or what political views they hold – support investing in our state parks and forests and protecting our precious natural resources,” said Brad Mallory, Board Chair of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, which commissioned the statewide scientific poll.
Additionally, the poll indicates that 67% of Pennsylvania likely voters favor using up to $125 million of the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan’s funds to maintain and rehabilitate forests and state parks.
The support for the use of the funding also was bipartisan and broad-based, with the support of 62% of Democrats, 66% of Independents, and 73% of Republicans.
Through all phases of the pandemic, state parks and forests provide space for improving Pennsylvanians’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
In 2020, nearly 47 million people were recorded in state parks alone, an increase of 26% from the year prior, and the high use continues.
“Throughout the pandemic, it was universally recognized that outside was the place to be for our own health and wellness. State parks and forests provide a way to experience the great outdoors close to home; thus, the use of these public spaces exploded,” said Marci Mowery, President of PPFF. “Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation believes an important role that our parks and forests play is in protecting and improving human health.”
Parks and forests also have proven their economic value in Pennsylvania.
Based on an Outdoor Recreation Industry study, Pennsylvania ranks 5th for consumer spending on outdoor recreation and generates $29.1 billion in annual spending by consumers, supporting 251,00 jobs, and generating $1.9 billion in tax revenues.
The likely voters were informed that PPFF estimates that state forests and parks face a $1.4 billion backlog in construction and delayed maintenance. It includes the much-needed repair of roads, bridges, trails, dams, sewer, water systems, bathrooms, cabins, and other facilities for visitors.
The majority of voters support the American Rescue Plans funds, even if this means money cannot be used to fund other programs, according to a report.
When informed that states forests serve as a natural filter in removing harmful pollutants in streams, rivers, and lakes, 79% of likely voters agreed that the state should invest in protecting state forests to maintain clean water and reduce flooding.
“Now is the time to invest in our state parks and forests,” said Mallory. “We call on the members of the General Assembly to utilize a portion of the federal American Rescue Plan funds provided to Pennsylvania to help fill this backlog so that these lands may be safe and enjoyable for all.”
This article originally appeared on PA Environment Digest Blog.