Two Republican state representatives are putting forward a bill that would do irreparable harm to our state parks. Don Hopey writes in The Pittsburgh Pozt-Gazette that our award-winning parks could be converted into “golf courses, hotels. inns, restaurants, amusement parks, water slides and other outdoor sports facilities.
Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler, has proposed amending the 1995 Conservation and Natural Resources Act to allow development of all of those recreational and lodging amenities, along with the establishment of a new politically appointed Public-Private State Park Partnership Board to propose and oversee development projects.
And Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, introduced legislation Monday that would create the Arnold Palmer Trails Program to obtain a license for the use of the Latrobe golfer’s name and oversee construction of four in-park golf courses that reflect “the golf course design philosophy of Arnold Palmer.”
This is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever seen for state parks. It ranks a very close second place to Tom Corbett’s move two years ago to open state parks to fracking. At least Ellis and company didn’t try to bury the news before the Memorial Day weekend. But this brazen attempt to vault golf and high-impact recreation above our the health of our forests and streams, above outdoor and wilderness recreation, above low-cost and high-value family time is simply appalling. Environmentally, the damage is obvious. It will convert hundreds or thousands of fields and woodland into grass, concrete, steel or wooden roller coasters, and other things with obvious repercussions to wildlife and ecosystem services.
The proposed legislation is being opposed by Pennsylvania Environmental Council, the Nature Conservancy Pennsylvania Chapter, PennFuture, the Sierra Club, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Clean Water Action and the Keystone Trails Association. The article reports that Attorney John Childe of the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund, “will file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the legislation for violating the public trust provisions of the state Constitution, which require officials to conserve and maintain the natural resources of the state park system” under Article 1, Section 27.
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
These constitutional rights and environmental concerns don’t matter much to Ellis. He’s quoted as “several studies that say golf courses make for a better wildlife management environment,” and adding: “They can be developed to protect the environment and make it even better.” I believe this is what we call magical thinking. The economic arguments behind such ideas are probably as bad.
Golf is struggling in the United States. The idea Ellis and Christiana put forward places taxpayers on the hook to support very expensive land development plans to bolster an upper-class sport that will lose money. Let’s face it, most of us are no good at golf. Converting beautiful places enjoyed by lower- and middle-income people into faux luxury areas makes about as much sense as building Denny’s in the Waldorf or trying to sell escargots and foie gras at Long John Silver’s.
This can’t pass. We have to stop it. We need places where we can relax, enjoy peace of mind, and be closer to nature. I urge you to contact your state representative immediately.