Even without the coronavirus pandemic, the year we’re about to leave behind would (have) seen major changes in the outdoor world of Pennsylvania. But we have been dealing with the pandemic through most of the year, and that has brought whole new dimensions to our concept of change. Starting in mid-March, the state’s resource agencies began to respond to the pandemic.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources closed all facilities in all state parks and state forests statewide, and canceled all public programs, events and trainings, but left trails, lakes, forests, roads and parking areas open. The Pennsylvania Game Commission closed all its offices and shooting ranges on state game lands and moved its meetings to online only. The commission also eventually canceled the annual distribution of tree seedlings from its Howard Nursery in Centre County. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission launched into a string of changes focused on trout stocking and trout fishing.To reduce large gatherings and cross-state travel by anglers the commission first consolidated its four opening days of trout season and altered its stocking schedule to remove volunteers from the process. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly on April 7, the commission opened the trout season statewide, without any early days for young anglers and no regional division. Social distancing and travel restrictions led to unprecedented numbers of users and crowding in parks and on trails, including the iconic Appalachian Trail. Among the responses, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy asked hikers to stay off the trail and thru-hikers to postpone their treks. Amid a steady flow of pandemic headlines, a flathead catfish weighing 56 pounds 3 ounces and measuring 50 inches long managed to catch a bit of attention, as the largest fish on record in Pennsylvania. The state-record flathead was caught by Jonathan Pierce, of Philadelphia, on May 24 in the Schuylkill River. In July the Game Commission approved a new Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan, which followed several previous attempts at slowing the spread of CWD that had met with a mix of acceptance and resistance from hunters and landowners since the always-fatal disease of deer and elk was discovered in Pennsylvania in 2012. The new plan prescribes response to CWD in geographic increments, including the 3 existing disease management areas and any new DMAs that might be established. [full article]