As local municipalities consider ways to use an influx of funds from the American Rescue Plan, some communities see it as an opportunity to support conservation and outdoor-recreation projects.
Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are receiving direct allocations totaling $2.8 billion, while municipalities will receive approximately $3.3 billion.
Silas Chamberlin, vice president of economic and community development for the York County Economic Alliance, said while some counties and towns may choose to use the rescue-plan dollars to balance their budget, making investments in conservation or parks and trails can play an important role in a community’s pandemic recovery.
“During the pandemic, when other sources of tourism were shut down, our outdoor recreation facilities set record numbers for use,” Chamberlin recounted. “It just sort of proved that not only are these kinds of assets important to our tourism economy, but they’re incredibly resilient.”
Outdoor recreation is one of Pennsylvania’s largest industries, generating more than $29 billion annually in consumer spending. Municipalities with fewer than 50,000 residents have received their federal allocation of funds through the state.
A priority highlighted in the American Rescue Plan is ensuring the funds reach historically underserved communities. Chamberlin said York County is using $100,000 from its allocation to plan for and begin development of the South Mountain Trolley Greenway, which runs eight miles between Dillsburg and Mechanicsburg, two towns with limited public trail access.
“In part because they were the places where, if somebody wanted to get on a trail during the pandemic, they had to hop in their car and drive 30 minutes to get to a trailhead,” Chamberlin pointed out. “Recognizing that that’s not sustainable and not equitable, we tried to pick some projects that sort of rose to the top that would meet those needs but also bring tourists into the community.”
Silas added York County saw trail use go up 300% during the pandemic. A majority of municipalities in Pennsylvania have received about 50% of their rescue-plan dollars and should expect to receive the other half by the end of this year.