Conservationists asked to operate forests and parks with millions of dollars in state cuts are hoping budgetmakers don't lead them on a trail to further spending reductions.
State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources press secretary Christina Novak said state parks lost $9 million and state forests lost $7.4 million when the budget was finalized for the fiscal year ending June 30.
Campgrounds were closed statewide, swimming seasons were shortened and decreased capability to maintain roads were some of the impacts Novak described.
District Forester Rich Glinski doesn't expect more cutbacks at the Loyalsock State Forest he manages, only because he said he's already shortstaffed.
"They can't cut any fat off a rock," he said.
According to Glinski, reduced personnel affects forest roads, trails, buildings and signs when they can't be properly maintained.
For fiscal year 2009-10, Glinski said he lost six employees who were designated forest maintenance responsibilities from April to November.
That leaves him with five seasonal maintenance laborers.
Glinski said there's only one employee that oversees maintenance because two other full-time positions were cut from the staff.
January flooding only worsened roads, according to Glinski.
He said there's no way to precisely gauge how many people visit the forest for a variety of activities including hunting, fishing, hiking and camping.
Using permitting to help form a count, Glinski said there's well over 4,000 campers who use these roads and other forest amenities annually.
Despite a $21 million cut to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resource's general fund, no parks or forests closed this past year.
Payments made by natural gas companies leasing land helped keep the parks open, according to Novak.
From the gas property lease money, Novak said a total of $1.8 million was paid by the businesses and transferred to the DCNR for this fiscal year.
Another $1.8 million is proposed for the budget being drafted, according to Novak.
Michael S. Winters, a park manager who oversees operations at Little Pine and Upper Pine Bottom state parks and Hyner Run and Hyner View state parks, declined to speculate on proposed cutbacks.
He was willing to describe cuts already enacted.
Winters said his parks were no exception to the proportionate cuts enacted statewide.
His operating budget for the four-park complex is about $70,000 less than the $803,000 available in fiscal year 2008-09.
"Further reductions would be crippling," Winters said.
The Hyner Run campground and organized group tent areas at Little Pine park are operating under a reduced season spanning from late April to mid-October.
That's about 3 1/2 months less than it used to be, according to Winters.
Instead of the former Memorial Day to Labor Day Hyner Run swimming pool season, Winters said a two-month pool season won't begin until mid-June.
Winters said none of the park employees were furloughed, but some seasonal workers experienced reductions in the numbers of hours they could work.
Fewer employees made it more challenging to Winters to ensure facilities were properly maintained.
Adjustments were made to reduce operating costs, according to Winters.
Power was turned off at a Hyner Run office that was winterized and unoccupied through the colder months of the past year.
Some maintenance building consolidation was enacted through the winter.
Fewer restrooms were made available early this camping season, as Winters said they'll be opened as needed.
As he adapts to the changes, Winters understands the necessity.
He said, "Decisions about service reductions were calculated and deliberate to continue to provide a quality visitor experience at our parks while keeping all 117 state parks open in Pennsylvania."