DCNR outlines 2022 priorities, banks on the future of outdoor recreation in Pa.

To show it’s serious about elevating outdoor recreation in the commonwealth, DCNR also announced that it had hired Dr. Nathan Reigner, a former Penn State Researcher and consulting social scientist, to serve as the agency’s first director of outdoor recreation

By: - January 26, 2022 2:43 pm

DCNR outlines its priorities for 2022 in a presentation to CNRAC members Wednesday (Capital-Star Screen Capture by Cassie Miller).

The state agency in charge of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks and 2.2 million acres of state forests laid out its priorities for 2022 on Wednesday, announcing a new hire and investment initiatives to bolster outdoor recreation in the commonwealth. 

This year [2022] “is going to be our biggest and best year yet,” state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn told an agency advisory panel. She added that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for an “elevated” investment in Pennsylvania’s public spaces, which saw record use during the COVID-19-induced lockdowns.

Pa. parks see growth during pandemic | The Numbers Racket

“We have seen a tremendous interest in outdoor recreation over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dunn told members of the Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council, a 19-member panel made up of House, Senate and Governor appointees, “At the core of our priorities is ensuring those new users are a part of our focus going forward.” Dunn also sits on the board as its 19th member. 

Some of the agency’s top priorities for 2022 include: 

  • Demonstrating the critical need for $1.4 billion infrastructure improvements in state parks and forests; developing a long-term sustainable funding source
  • Continuing to address water quality issues through streamside buffers and lawn conversation projects
  • Addressing climate and sustainability issues through strategic planning, green energy initiatives, reducing carbon emissions and carbon capture projects
  • Expanding and funding the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps
  • Nurturing new leaders through the department’s NextGen Council
  • Building on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) efforts to reinforce the message that parks and forests are welcoming to all people
  • And maximizing on outdoor recreation momentum to retain new uses through implementing existing action plans, expanding outdoor recreation opportunities, and leveraging grants to expand access to trails.

To show it’s serious about elevating outdoor recreation in the commonwealth, DCNR also announced that it had hired Dr. Nathan Reigner, a former Penn State researcher and consulting social scientist, to serve as the agency’s first director of outdoor recreation.

As the steward of Pennsylvania’s public lands, Reigner said he believes outdoor recreation is a key tenet of DCNR’s mission. 

“There’s more to outdoor recreation than the activities themselves,” Reigner said.

A native Pennsylvanian, Reigner told meeting attendees that he “hopes to bring that recreationalist perspective into DCNR.”

In addition to helping Pennsylvania’s state government “think like a recreationalist,” Reigner is tasked with fostering relationships between DCNR, other intergovernmental agencies and outside partners, and helping DCNR invest in outdoor recreation through economic, equitable, environmental and communal efforts.

“My job is to ensure and expand the benefits of outdoor recreation for all Pennsylvanians as individuals, communities, and a commonwealth,” Reigner said. “I’m not DCNR’s director of outdoor recreation, I’m Pennsylvania’s director of outdoor recreation.”

To that end, Reigner emphasized the need for DCNR to invest in allies, including outdoor recreation businesses to help Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation economy “realize that it exists.”

“We need to continue making quite substantial investments,” Reigner said. 

If there’s any evidence to suggest that Pennsylvania might be catching the eye of the outdoor recreation industry, it might be the arrival of REI Co-op, the national outdoor retailer, based out of Washington state, to central Pennsylvania last fall, after opening its second Pennsylvania store six years earlier.

Prior to the Mechanicsburg, Pa. store opening last year, just two brick-and-mortar REI stores existed in the eastern half of the state – King of Prussia (2016) and Conshohocken (1991), respectively. 

Repeating a phrase she’s uttered at DCNR events several times, Dunn said, “We’re an outdoor state.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.