If you are planning on spending part of your summer camping or kayaking at any one of the numerous Pennsylvania state parks, you aren’t alone.

The state Department of Conservation of Natural Resources issued an overcrowding alert for the Memorial Day weekend, warning visitors that 14 of the 121 state parks could be glutted with people eager to spend the holidays in the wild.

It was not a surprise. It is the same kind of problem that lots of parks are seeing across the country as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. From New York to Montanato, Hawaii, the gorgeous natural spaces are being rediscovered for their affordable and socially distant recreation possibilities.

It’s a great problem to have. Except when it isn’t.

In 2020, Ohiopyle State Park experienced hazardous traffic and parking problems because of the number of visitors, which has no gates and therefore can’t just close down like Disneyland when it hits capacity. Additionally, careless visitors caused a big jump in litter and more feet tramping through the green spaces killed grass. Some disrespectful guests flouted rules about alcohol use and others used inflatable devices in unsafe areas.

It’s a disappointing counterpoint to a new appreciation for natural beauty. Millions usually visit state and national parks every year, but, in 2020, the Outdoor Foundationreported hiking grew by 8.1 million participants. That is good news for a state like Pennsylvania with 121 state parks, 20 state forests and 16 national forests — and a $13 billion outdoor recreation industry.

It is the kind of appreciation that easily could continue and grow for the benefit of both the people and the parks themselves. More visitors could translate to more revenue and more options available at the parks.

But that is up to the people.

— The Tribune-Review, Greensburg/TNS

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