York County welcomes new state park, Susquehanna Riverlands

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

Susquehanna Riverlands State Park is officially open.

The 1,100-acre tract near Wrightsville was one of three new parks designated by the state as part of a $45 million effort to expand recreation across Pennsylvania. The York County park, which is located alongside several other tracts already preserved as open space, cost $20 million, state officials said Tuesday.

"Our state parks are among the finest in the nation," Gov. Tom Wolf said during a ceremony Tuesday at the new park in York County. The parks "are going to allow us to bring people to appreciate this kind of beauty."

Two other state parks also were announced on Tuesday: Big Elk Creek in Chester County and Vosburg Neck in Chester County.

Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the York County park is now open to the public, although additional facilities such as restrooms are still a few years away.

The creation of the new parks was rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic, as parks saw an influx of users because many other activities were restricted.

“People came out in droves during the pandemic and reaffirmed their interest in parks,” Dunn said.

County officials, meanwhile, welcomed the addition.

"It's an exciting time," said Michael Fobes, York County's parks and recreation director.

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Fobes said Susquehanna Riverlands can take pressure off of county and local parks, which have seen a 35% increase in visitors since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"Adding another state park does nothing but help," he added.

Wolf said the land making up Susquehanna Riverlands was previously owned by a local family for many generations. Several speakers, including Republican state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, reminisced about the times spent at state parks as children, highlighting their value to Pennsylvania families.

Gov. Tom Wolf in York county's new state park on Forge Lane in York County on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

The other additions to the state's 121-park system will be an existing nearly 700-acre nature preserve on the Vosburg Neck in Wyoming County and a 1,700-acre tract in Chester County. The expansion was funded in the state budget that passed in July. Although the high gas prices of 2022 have produced many issues for state residents, they also created an excess of revenue for the state oil and gas fund, according to DCNR.

"We actually had money that was unbudgeted and available," Dunn said, "and by constitution that money is required to be put to enhance the constitutional rights the public has to natural resources, so we thought what better way to do that than to create some state parks."

They are the first new state parks in Pennsylvania since 2005, not counting Washington Crossing in Bucks County, which was transferred from the state Historical and Museum Commission.

The Lancaster County Conservancy is saving nearly 1,000 acres in northern York County which will become the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve. Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

The Vosburg Neck property, known as the Howland Preserve and owned by the North Branch Land Trust, is bordered by an oxbow turn in the Susquehanna River and includes an extensive trail system.

In Chester County, the new park will include 3.5 miles of Big Elk Creek, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay at Elk River. Officials say the creek was long used by Indigenous people and was an area of considerable activity for the Underground Railroad.

“There's going to be a lot of history, a lot of stories to tell,” Dunn said. “And part of the park planning in that one will be, what's the best way for us to do that?"

The York County park, located a few miles from Gov. Tom Wolf's home in Mount Wolf, is adjacent to large tracts owned by the Lancaster Conservancy — the former Boy Scout camp Wizard Ranch and the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve.

The map shows the tracts of land that will become the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve in northeastern York County.

Dunn said the state recently purchased the York County property, assembled the Chester County land over more than a decade and is in final negotiations for the Wyoming County tract.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to serve the public in a way that the public demands of us,” she said.

Elk Creek cost $13 million in land purchase and development fees, and Vosburg cost $12 million. Their final names haven’t been determined. The parks are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2026.

Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo contributed to this report.