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Pennsylvania agency designates new 'wild areas'
June 29, 2016 12:46 AM

By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources plans to designate five new “wild areas” in state forests, including the largest roadless area in the commonwealth and the 6,000-acre Quebec Run Wild Area in the Forbes State Forest near Uniontown in Fayette County.

The new areas, announced by DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn Tuesday, <span style="font-weight: bold">will increase the number of wild areas from 15 to 20 and add 50,500 acres to the approximately 110,000 acres</span> in the state’s equivalent of federal wilderness lands designations.

“As public lands, Pennsylvanians should feel fortunate that they own these special, remote havens for wildlife, sources of clean water, and stands of old trees away from roads and development,” Ms. Dunn said in a release announcing the new areas. “Our wild areas offer the best places in our state forest system where people can experience wilderness, pursue peace and solitude, hike, watch wildlife and camp.”

The Hammersley Wild Area, the largest of the new designations and the state’s largest roadless area, stretches over 30,000 acres in the Susquehannock State Forest in Potter and Clinton counties.

Also designated were the 6,200-acre Penns Creek Wild Area in Bald Eagle State Forest in Mifflin and Union counties; the 5,600-acre Square Timber/​Big Run Wild Area in Elk State Forest, Cameron County; and the 2,700-acre Stairway Wild Area in the Delaware State Forest, Pike County.

Each of the wild areas have relatively undisturbed forests, limited or no roads, scenic vistas, high quality waterways, wildlife habitat, and no timbering. All are open to the public for primitive recreation, including camping, hiking fishing and hunting.

The wilderness area designations in state forests were announced by the DCNR at the same time that two proposals seeking to increase commercial development in state parks — including golf courses, hotels, amusement and water parks — are under consideration in the state House.

The most sweeping of the park development proposals, H.B.2013, was amended and narrowed Monday night to limit the development to a “public-private state park pilot program.” But environmental organizations, which had lined up against the proposal by state Rep. Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler, were not mollified.

In a Tuesday letter to state legislators and Gov. Tom Wolf, Marci Mowery, president of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation, and Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, said the legislative proposal is incompatible with the vision that has created an award-winning state park system, and “still represents a frontal assault on Pennsylvania’s state park system, and the very reasons that it has been so successful.”

The DCNR, which had been quiet on the park development proposals last week, issued a statement saying it is “working with the sponsor to strike a balance between the legislature’s desire for additional private development opportunities in our state parks and forests, and DCNR’s mission as a steward of commonwealth lands.”
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