Pennsylvania spending $45M to establish 3 new state parks

One park in Chester County will include 3.5 miles of Big Elk Creek
state park trail
Photo credit lauradyoung/Getty Images

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP)Pennsylvania is spending $45 million to add new state parks at a nature preserve in Tunkhannock, on Big Elk Creek in the Philadelphia suburbs and along the Susquehanna River near Wrightsville, officials were set to announce Tuesday.

The additions to the state’s 121-park system will be an existing nearly 700-acre nature preserve on the Vosburg Neck in Wyoming County, a 1,700-acre tract in Chester County and some 1,100 acres in York County.

The expansion was funded in the state budget that passed in July. They are the first new state parks in Pennsylvania since 2005, not counting Washington Crossing in Bucks County, which was transferred from the state Historical and Museum Commission.

The Vosburg Neck property, known as the Howland Preserve and owned by the North Branch Land Trust, is bordered by an oxbow turn in the Susquehanna River and includes an extensive trail system.

In Chester County, the new park will include 3.5 miles of Big Elk Creek, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay at Elk River. Officials say the creek was long used by indigenous people and was an area of considerable activity for the Underground Railroad.

“There’s going to be a lot of history, a lot of stories to tell,” said Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “And part of the park planning in that one will be, what’s the best way for us to do that?”

The York park, located a few miles from Gov. Tom Wolf’s home in Mount Wolf, is adjacent to large tracts owned by the Lancaster Conservancy — the former Boy Scout camp Wizard Ranch and the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve.

Dunn said the state recently purchased the York County property, assembled the Chester County land over more than a decade and is in final negotiations for the Wyoming County tract.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to serve the public in a way that the public demands of us,” Dunn said. “People came out in droves during the pandemic and reaffirmed their interest in parks.”

The York park, with the working name Susquehanna Riverlands, is costing $20 million in land purchase and development costs, Elk Creek $13 million and Vosburg $12 million. Their final names haven’t been determined, and the parks are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2026.

The money in this year’s budget is the result of an unexpected windfall from gas drilling leases on state forest land, Dunn said. New state funding is also helping develop a park where people can use motorized vehicles in Schuylkill County, south of Hazleton, and to preserve the state’s large collection of geologic core samples.

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