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Parks increase residents’ quality of life

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Dustin Drew, manager of McConnells Mill and Moraine State Park shows off one of the maps of the Lake Moraine area on Tuesday. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle. August 16th 2022

For more than 50 years, Moraine State Park has conserved land and water in this area while offering a natural space for local communities and beyond to recreate, relax and spend quality time together. As its manager, I am proud to be a part of that ongoing tradition in this community.

Moraine, like many other parks, is proof of just how important parks are for communities. The physical and mental health benefits of outdoor recreation offer a positive quality of life to community members. Parks are gathering places, places of solitude and reflection, a connection to nature or a place to simply have fun. I was reminded of this recently when participating in a community helper day at a local school.

As I listened to the students talk about the different ways that they use parks and the activities they enjoy, it was impressive to see that every student had some connection to a park or outdoor space in their community. I was honored to be invited to spend time with the students and encouraged by their enthusiasm for parks and natural environments.

There were two other points about our local state parks that I discussed with the students, and I think are important to keep in mind for all community members. The first is that, while our state parks aren’t right next door to your house, they are still tied to the communities around them, offering recreation, economic impacts through tourism and conserved space. The second point focuses on that conserved space and how it creates a community for a diverse group of flora and fauna as well. Just as parks are part of the people’s community, the lands and waters within form a community of many other living things.

If you aren’t familiar with Moraine State Park, I encourage you to explore it. One thing that attracted me to work at this park is the diverse recreation it offers. As I often reply to visitors when asked what they should do at the park, nearly every type of recreation that Pennsylvania State Parks offers is available, and with McConnells Mill State Park a few miles west, nearly all bases are covered between the two parks.

The 3,225-acre Lake Arthur is the focal point of Moraine State Park and offers opportunities for angling, paddling, sailing or motorized boating up to 20 horsepower. Two swimming areas with food concessions are available during the warmer months. A boat rental concession is available on the south shore for those who don’t own a boat. Two marinas allow boaters to rent slips for onsite storage through the boating season. During winter months, ice fishing is a popular activity when there is sufficient ice thickness.

If you’d rather stay on land, there are a plethora of trails to choose from. A paved trail runs along the north shore of the lake for over seven miles and is open to biking and hiking. A bike rental concession is located at the western trailhead.

For hikers, the North Country Trail runs through the northern hills of the park before continuing to either McConnells Mill State Park or Jennings Environmental Education Center, eventually passing through eight states in total. The Wyggeston Trail offers a loop or linear hike through some less-traveled upland forested areas, and the trails on the south shore, including the Sunken Garden and Hill Top trails, offer the ability to combine loops to meet distance and time goals while traveling through a variety of habitats, which also lends themselves to cross-country skiing once the snow falls.

Equestrians can ride around 20 miles of trails in the east and southwest areas of the park, and a challenging mountain bike trail system exists in the north-central portion. In the winter months, there is a snowmobile trail network open when enough snow is present. A sledding hill on the south shore is another popular wintertime activity.

Beyond trails, other land activities include an 18-hole disc golf course, wildlife viewing/photography and picnicking. Many people also don’t realize that the majority of the park is open to hunting, under Pennsylvania’s game laws.

I have heard from many visitors how much they enjoy and value the park. Often, they are visiting with family and represent multiple generations recalling memories and creating new experiences here. Visiting the park has become a routine part of their lives and family values. While our parks continue to evolve as recreational interests and trends change over time, these benefits of conservation and recreation will always be present.

Dustin Drew is manager for both Moraine and McConnells Mill state parks.

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