Keystone Trails Association: Preserving Pennsylvania's Footpaths since 1956

ACTION ALERT UPDATE:
SGL PROPOSAL FOR 
HIKER BAN/ PERMIT

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On January 12, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) announced its intention to require hikers to have permits to use State Game Lands (SGLs), and to ban non-hunter use of SGLs during certain periods of time.

Keystone Trails Association (KTA) has been following the development of this proposal since last summer, when non-hunter permits for SGL access were being considered. In August, KTA's Executive Director, Curt Ashenfelter, met with PGC's Executive Director to advocate on hikers' behalf, and was assured that hikers would be exempt from any permitting requirement. In September, the PGC again relayed that the proposal would be revised to exempt persons using SGLs on foot. 

Unfortunately, the PGC's latest proposal does not reflect these conversations.   It would effectively: 

  * Ban hiking on SGLs, except on Sundays, during two periods - from the last Saturday in September through the third Saturday in January; and from the second Saturday in April through Memorial Day. The PGC considers these two windows to be times of peak hunting activity.  Unfortunately, this coincides with what many trail users consider to be prime hiking, snowshoeing, birding, trail running, and cross-country skiing season.

* Require hikers to obtain and carry a (free) trail permit in order to utilize SGLs on all non-restricted days.  While users of certain trails (most notably, the Appalachian Trail, Laurel Highlands, Horse-Shoe Trail and Rails-to-Trails) would be exempt from permitting requirements, the rules would significantly restrict access to many prime hiking areas in Pennsylvania.  In addition, these exemptions don't appear to apply to the ban - just to the permit requirement - but we hope that this may simply be a drafting error.

We are also concerned that these requirements could affect trail maintenance activities conducted by KTA and our member clubs throughout the state.  

MOVING FORWARD: KTA'S RECOMMENDATIONS

The proposed hiking ban and required trail permit would both unnecessarily burden Pennsylvania's hikers and trail maintainers.

The PGC's proposed ban during peak hunting season is reportedly in response to some hikers neglecting to wear blaze orange on SGLs during that time, a PGC requirement that is intended to protect hikers and hunters alike.  (Note, as of today, we have not received any documentation that validates this concern.)

If these reports are accurate, KTA believes the best solution is not to ban all hiking on SGLs during two extended periods, but to instead more broadly publicize the importance of taking reasonable precautions during hunting seasons.   We propose, in that case, coordination of efforts between KTA and the PGC, so that we may promote this important message more effectively and efficiently to all Pennsylvanian trail enthusiasts.

The PGC's proposed permit would place excessive burdens on both the PA hiking community and on the PGC itself, as it would require the PGC to set up additional infrastructure to disseminate the permits and enforce this new requirement.   

Even a "free" permit has its costs.  In Pennsylvania, we have fought hard to keep our trails open to all hikers and trail runners.  This policy could change that, and the precedent it would set could affect hikers for decades to come. 

Rather than instituting permitting requirements, we propose that a joint venture between KTA and the PGC be established to educate all trail users about trail safety on SGLs.

KTA's primary goal is to have the PGC strike the hiking ban and permit from their proposal.  However, if the PGC insists on implementing these new restrictions, KTA will advocate for a significant expansion of the stated exemptions to both requirements.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

This proposal is scheduled to be reviewed by the PGC on January 27, during its next meeting.   Based on our most recent conversation with the PGC's Executive Director, although it is possible that the PGC will call for a vote on that date, the proposal would need to be re-reviewed and voted upon again at their April meeting, prior to going into effect.  In the meantime: 

1. If you've already sent a message to KTA or the PGC with your concerns and questions, thank you!  Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming amount of feedback we've received this week, we are unable to respond to each message individually at this time.  We encourage you to forward your message to the PGC at [email protected]  

2. If you haven't yet voiced your opinion, we encourage you to send your concerns to the PGC directly at [email protected], and consider attending the PGC meeting on January 25 (details below).    


4. We are seeking documented examples of how KTA and other trails and conservation organizations have acquired lands and donated them to the PGC over the years.  For example, the Thousand Steps, near Mount Union in Huntingdon County, was acquired though the joint efforts of the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy and KTA, then given to the PGC.   It would help us advocate on the hiking community's behalf if we had examples of other instances of cooperation like this!  Please send any information you have on this topic to [email protected] as soon as possible.  

Planning to come to the PGC meeting on January 25?  Here are the details: 

When: Sunday, January 25, 2015
Where: PA Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA. 
How: Registration begins at 12 PM, and public comments begin at 1 PM. 

Comments may be no longer than 5 minutes each.  We encourage you to be civil and constructive; historically, KTA has enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the PGC, and we hope that it will continue well into the future.

Thank you for your time and help.  We will continue to update you on this important issue as new developments arise. 

TOGETHER, WE ARE KTA.