Electric car drivers can get an extra charge out of visiting Pa. parks, forests

Prince Gallitzin State Park Manager Jessica Lavelua (left) and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn demonstrate an electric vehicle charging station.

Prince Gallitzin State Park Manager Jessica Lavelua (left) and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn demonstrate an electric vehicle charging station. (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

Electric and hybrid car owners will soon have access to dozens of free charging stations at Pennsylvania parks and forests.

It’s part of an effort by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to reduce its carbon footprint and better serve park visitors.

Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County, where George Washington famously crossed the Delaware River, is now the site of another revolutionary development — charging stations that can accommodate up to four vehicles.

Park manager George Calaba said he expects area commuters will welcome the chance to detour into the park to top off their batteries.

“People who are heading into work in the morning right here at our crossroads of River Road and State Route 532, every morning it’s backed up 50 cars,” he said. “I have 30 cars going east, west, north and south … So there is the opportunity for many, many people who are heading off to work to leave a little bit earlier. They need to get a charge or on their way home.”

The new stations — capable of fully charging vehicles in 2.5 to 7 hours — are meant to help reduce greenhouse gases and improve air quality across the state.

And Cindy Adams Dunn, secretary of the the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said it’s an opportunity for park and forest visitors — not just their vehicles — to reboot.

“The nice thing about doing this at a state park is, you can plug it in and go take a hike,” she said. “Plug it in, enjoy a picnic lunch while your car’s recharging. It generally takes a couple hours. You can recharge your own spirit and your energy by taking a walk.”

More than 1,600 electric cars are operating in the Philadelphia region.

Philadelphia had an electric vehicle parking space program as part of the city’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but after little use and public outcry that those spaces amounted to private on-street parking, City Council suspended the program.

Four other Philadelphia-area parks are expected to have the stations installed by the end of 2019: Delaware Canal State Park and Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County; Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County; and Ridley Creek State Park in Delaware County.

The goal is to highlight “green” options for those drivers and others, said Adams Dunn.

“It demonstrates and encourages a technology that, frankly, helps Pennsylvania’s environment in the future,” she said. “So we don’t want obstacles for people to make these good environmental decisions. We want to facilitate it.”

And it’s not complicated, she added.

“It’s very easy,” Adams Dunn said. “It’s a lot easier, frankly, than gassing a car. It’s obvious how it works. It’s obvious how the plug works, and it’s obvious when it’s working.”

The vision of the founding Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary was to have a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian.

“So this light bulb went off in our heads like, ‘Wow, that’s a grid,’ ” Adams Dunn said. “All these electric vehicles go more than 25 miles, but that provides a known grid across the state.”

Out of the state’s 67 counties, 33 will have a charging station.

Typical charging pedestals cost $5,000 and can serve two cars.

The project is funded by Volkswagen’s settlement with the EPA over emissions violations.

The Keystone State’s portion is administered by state Department of Environmental Protection through a competitive application process.

The car-charging stations are part of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ green and sustainability initiative that also includes LEED-certified buildings and using solar energy throughout its 121 state parks and 20 forest districts. The conservation agency is also focused on increasing its electric or hybrid options among its fleet of 1,600 vehicles and enhancing public transportation access to state parks.

Pedestals also have been installed at Prince Gallitzin State Park in Cambria County and Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County.

Installation of nearly 40 other free charging stations throughout the state is expected by 2020.

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