On summer weekends when I was a youngster, my uncle's coal truck would be washed out and long benches and baskets filled to the brim with food for a picnic lunch were placed in the bed. Then friends and relatives climbed aboard and off we went for a fun day at either World's End State Park in Sullivan County or Half-Way Dam in Union County.
Our state park system, which will be 119 years old on Wednesday had its beginning on May 30, 1893, when Gov. Robert Pattison signed a bill authorizing the acquisition of 250 acres at a cost of $25,000 at Valley Forge in Montgomery County.
Valley Forge became our first state park and, because of its national significance, it became part of the National Park System in 1976.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL BOWER
Children and their families make good use of the Stephen Foster Lake at Mt. Pisgah
State Park in Troy.
In 1895, a bill was enacted that created the Department of Agriculture, with a Division of Forestry. In 1897, legislators gave the Division of Forestry the responsibility of extinguishing forest fires that were plaguing Pennsylvania and also the right to establish state forest reserves at the headwaters of three of the state's largest rivers: Delaware, Susquehanna and Ohio.
In 1898, the first state forest was established - 7,500 acres in Clinton County at the Young Woman's Creek watershed.
In 1875, the Mont Alto Iron Co., which was facing financial problems, built a recreation area to supplement its income. The area became a summer resort, with railroad excursions from cities as far away as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The land later was purchased by the state and became Mont Alto, the first area in the recreation field.
In 1903, a tract of land in Franklin and Adams counties, was purchased from the Caledonia Mining and Manufacturing Co., with existing recreational facilities. Later, two tracts of land were added and, on July 29, 1905, Caledonia State Forest Park became the second park for recreation.
By 1933, the economic situation in the U.S. had become a disaster. On March 9, 1933, President Teddy Roosevelt called on legislators to put 500,000 men to work on a variety of conservation projects. One of the first Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Pennsylvania was at Bald Eagle State Forest in Union County. By 1934, Pennsylvania had 104 CCC camps, with 92 on state forest and state park lands. By 1935, there were 113 active CCC camps in Pennsylvania, second to California's 155 camps.
Although the CCC was a great success, World War II caused its demise when many young men were drafted or enlisted in the military. On Jan. 30, 1942, Congress ended the CCC.
Now, Gov. Tom Corbett wants to eliminate one of the most important funding sources for our state parks, the Keystone Fund.
Our state parks are some of our greatest natural treasures. But with Corbett planning to cut all funding for the Keystone Fund, it's not clear how long we'll be able to preserve and protect our state parks.
Pennsylvania has some of the best state parks in the nation and for nearly 20 years, the Keystone Fund has helped to protect and preserve them. They could be at risk if Corbett eliminates the fund.
The reason my family always went to state parks was because money was scarce and the state parks were free. My father worked in the coal mines and many mines closed, putting miners out of work.
Today, you can visit any of Pennsylvania's state parks and not pay an entrance fee. Let us hope that Corbett does not drastically cut the Keystone Fund.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.