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Chester County Press

From tranquility to chaos

In last week’s edition of the Chester County Press, a sizable chunk of column inches were devoted to the ongoing story detailing the fervent outcry from several residents of Elk and Franklin townships over the planned development of Big Elk Creek State Park

Their voices have been heard at public meetings, their comments have been read on social media and their signatures are now on a petition – all of which has been supported by the persistent efforts of their State Representative John Lawrence to oppose the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) and its plans to convert a portion of the state park into an overnight camping facility which, residents fear, will turn a nearly pristine, 1,700-acre sanctuary of nature into a small city of RV vehicles -- from tranquility to chaos.

For nearly four decades, the once named Big Elk Creek Preserve – just like the White Clay Creek Preserve just north of it – has been managed by the Friends of the White Clay Creek with the delicacy of a jeweler cutting diamonds, and its trail systems are traversed by residents as if on a pilgrimage of silence and respect for the whispering language of nature. 

Now, a slice of that silence is on the verge of becoming extinct. At a Nov. 6 presentation at Lincoln University, DCNR – who finalized the purchase of the preserve in 2020 and rolled it into its 125-state park network -- unveiled its plans for Big Elk Creek State Park that include the construction of “Great Gathering Sites,” that imagines dozens of small cabins and yurts connected in winding pathways of camping spurs. 

In an interview with a DCNR spokesman for the article, he said that less than five percent of the state park’s 1,700 acres would be devoted to “Great Gathering Sites.” While these numbers may send out the illusion that the planned project is not as great as it seems, let’s offer another perspective: four percent of 1,700 acres creates a 68-acre camping park teeming with glampers in rumbling vehicles lighting campfire after campfire in a loud and unwieldy attempt to sojourn with nature. 

To offer an even larger perspective, the big picture mission of the DCNR is the equivalent of a giant, green broadcloth of preservation and conservation spread over Pennsylvania. It has helped to preserve and protect millions of acres throughout the Commonwealth from the predatory hands of developers. It provides educational opportunities. It addresses climate change, and it buys up land like no other agency in the history of Pennsylvania has before or ever will and gives it to the people. 

To that end, now is the time for the DCNR to listen to the will of the people who oppose this planned campground. We strongly advocate that this agency not wait until next Spring to schedule a follow-up presentation, but to open lines of communication immediately, from township to township, from stakeholder to stakeholder. Even if it becomes inevitable that a campground be built at Big Elk Creek State Park, we recommend that DCNR return with a revised plan that offers compromise in the form of a smaller footprint.

To the leaders and visionaries of the DCNR, we close with this: Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was once asked to offer his opinion of a St. Louis restaurant. “Nobody goes there anymore,” he said. “It’s too crowded.” Does this agency want to run the same risk at the Big Elk Creek State Park?