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Key recreation funding amount shrinksKeystone allocation was strong, but Marcellus Shale money waits until next cycle

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Wayne Sponseller, a Providence Township Parks and Recreation committee member, adds gravel to the Enola Low Grade Trail in Lancaster County in June. Photo/Submitted
Wayne Sponseller, a Providence Township Parks and Recreation committee member, adds gravel to the Enola Low Grade Trail in Lancaster County in June. Photo/Submitted

Pennsylvania has enacted fees on natural-gas drillers that support its Environmental Stewardship Fund and, in a separate move, has kept intact another funding source for parks and recreational endeavors.

But the overall amount of money awarded using these sources from a specific state grant program last month for tourism and recreation development has still gone down compared with last year.

About $26.5 million from the overall Community Conservation Partnerships Program was awarded to 198 organizations in November, down from about $32 million awarded in 2011.

Money allocated from one funding component — the state's Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund — ultimately went up after it was nearly cut from this fiscal year's state budget.

But there was a larger decline in money from the state's Environmental Stewardship Fund, and some groups who receive their money from this source said they will have to pick and choose a bit what they do in the coming year.

The overall decline is despite the fact that the stewardship fund, also known as Growing Greener, had received an earmark of more than $7 million from fees assessed on Marcellus Shale or other unconventional drilling wells in the state.

The money is from about $204 million in fees announced earlier this fall.

But the money allocated from those fees and going to the state Department of Environmental Protection, where the stewardship fund is housed, won't be available until the next fiscal year, said Christina Novak, spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The funds are the two largest components of C2P2, an umbrella program administered by DCNR for allocating money annually from a lot of sources to a lot of initiatives.

They include municipal park facilities, open-space preservation and tourism development, to name just a few.

Smaller funding sources were added to the pot, and all of these declined from 2011 or were eliminated.

The largest single grant award from C2P2 in the midstate was $408,400, to an effort led by Providence Township in Lancaster County for a rail trail initiative in multiple municipalities. It came from the Keystone money.

The Enola Low Grade Trail has received some improvements before, but the C2P2 grant will really make a difference, said Greg Collins, chairman of the Providence Township board of supervisors, which took the lead on applying for the grant.

The uses for the money include parking areas and greatly improving the surface in Providence Township; Martic and Conestoga townships using their shares toward fixing the Martic Forge trestle bridge that was closed for safety reasons; and Eden Township using its toward safety and signage on their portion of the trail, he said.

Barb Musser, co-owner of Mussers' Organic Bed and Breakfast in Providence Township and a member of the township's parks and recreation committee, said she is excited about the grant money.

Musser's business started in 2005 with two suites available and draws a mix of people staying for family events as well as the area's tourism draws, such as seeing Amish life and hiking and biking, she said.

It has a barn available for people to store their bikes, and the trail is only about a 10-minute ride away, Musser said.

"I think (the project) will improve tourism quite a bit here in the southern end," she said.

But amid the overall grant decline, some other groups are looking at less money and are budgeting accordingly.

Two of them received their grant awards from the Environmental Stewardship Fund.

The York County-based Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area received $250,000 in the last grant cycle from C2P2 and was awarded $100,000 for this round. The group promotes and fosters heritage-and outdoors-related tourism and recreation in the lower Susquehanna River corridor.

The group is shifting priorities and will use money left over from last year, but $100,000 is still about $24,000 less than what it expected to use for core operations, President Mark Platts said.

During the next few months, the group's officials will go over plans to figure out what it will do with less money, Platts said.

"We have to figure out those details," he said.

Any time there might be less money available for development initiatives, it's not a good thing, but at this point it's too early to say how it could affect business, said Steve Winand, co-owner of Shank's Mare Outfitters along the river in York County.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Office in Cumberland County of the West Virginia-based Appalachian Trail Conservancy received a $160,000 grant award, which was a bit below what it expected, said Jonathan Peterson, environmental planner for the conservancy and the staff lead for the South Mountain Partnership.

The conservancy had put in for about $200,000, he said.

The partnership is a group of nonprofit, government and business stakeholders and private individuals who are working together as stewards of the outdoors and heritage assets in portions of Cumberland, Adams, Franklin and northern York counties, he said.

Funding from the grant award will support the group's ongoing work, including regional-scale conservation planning and similar heritage and cultural planning, Peterson said.

The initiative will have to pick and choose a little more what it does, but it is comfortable that it will be able to move ahead with the overall work, he said.

Funding sources

The majority of the money for Community Conservation Partnerships Program grants comes from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund through an allocation that is split between C2P2 and infrastructure projects at state parks and forests, according to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The allocation is about $30 million to be divided between state land infrastructure and the grants.

The money that fills the Keystone Fund comes, in part, from a state tax on real estate transfers, meaning the amount fluctuates from year to year based on changes in the volume of real estate transactions, according to the department.

For the 2012-13 budget year, that amount came to $19.61 million compared with about $18.53 million in 2011.

There had been some expectation the money could disappear.

Keystone money coming to DCNR was debated as a possible cut from the current 2012-13 state budget, though it ultimately stayed in the final version signed by Gov. Tom Corbett last summer.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Stewardship Fund provided $4.35 million in C2P2 grant allocations this year compared with $7.2 million in 2011, according to DCNR.

The fund, which provides money known as Growing Greener, is funded by tipping fees assessed when waste haulers deposit trash in the state, meaning this money also can fluctuate from year to year. It also now gets money from a gas-drilling fee.

Growing Greener II — one of the eliminated sources — was funded by a bond.

More funding sources

The Community Conservation Partnerships Program is not the only source of state money for community parks and recreation projects.

Overall, about $72.5 million of the $204 million from the new Marcellus Shale-related impact fee money in Pennsylvania has been dedicated to funding across all of the state’s 67 counties and municipalities and set aside for competitive grants, according to Gov. Tom Corbett’s office.

Some potential uses include municipal projects, local community parks and recreation and bridge repair, the office said.

Specifically, there is nearly $10.9 million for rehabilitation of greenways, recreation trails, open space and nature areas, according to a breakdown from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Each county is to get a minimum of $25,000 for this use, according to the PUC.

The remainder is being used by state agencies that oversee gas-drilling activity and local governments with drilling inside their boundaries.

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