Pennsylvania park officials drop campground plans for Big Elk Creek State Park

DCNR officials say they’re focused on ecological restoration for Big Elk Creek State Park.

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3 miles of the Big Elk Creek, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay at the Elk River, is part of the newly designate Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

3 miles of the Big Elk Creek, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay at the Elk River, is part of the newly designate Big Elk Creek State Park in Chester County, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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A controversial proposal to add a campsite at a new Pennsylvania state park in Landenberg, Chester County, has been taken off the table after hundreds of residents petitioned against it.

Residents had hoped recreation at Big Elk Creek State Park, which opened in 2022, would be limited to daytime activities, such as hiking or birding.

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The land that was in consideration for camping was located within eyeshot of neighboring homes, and residents voiced concerns about increased traffic and noise.

The residents say they’re also worried about how construction, as well as increased foot traffic, would impact waterways and habitats. The area is home to 15 endangered or rare plants, including three varieties of orchids, as well as rare species, such as the short-eared owl.

The pushback has prompted the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to pause any camping considerations, said spokesman Wesley Robinson. The agency is also creating a new task force of local public officials and other stakeholders to discuss its future plans for the park, he said.

“We didn’t go through this process and communicate as well as we could have. We’re at a point now where, in order to get this right, we have to take a step back,” Robinson said. “We’re working to better communicate our focus right now. And our focus right now is ecological restoration and sharing the importance of the culture and history that is attached to this park.”

DCNR still plans to build a visitor center and restrooms for park visitors.

Resident Anteia Consorto led the opposition against the camping proposal. She said she’s “thrilled” camping currently is not being considered, and applauds the agency for some of their restoration plans, which include planting trees to protect water quality. 

However, Consorto said she still doesn’t trust the agency.

“I would love to see them put, ‘No camping for 100 years’ or, ‘No camping forever’ in a document and signed, that protects that land from ever being developed into a campground,” she said. “That would go a long way to getting the community behind them.”

Chester County Commissioner Eric Roe said he was concerned a campsite would turn “one of the last remaining” rural communities in the county into a “tourist destination,” and contribute to issues such as road deterioration, noise, and litter.

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Though Roe said he acknowledges DCNR does a lot of important work, such as restoration and conservation, he believes there are better areas to place a campsite than a small community like Landenburg. He adds that the agency should apologize for the “panic” that has ensued.

“I’m all for having a constructive dialogue, but I’m not willing to put a giant campground complex on that piece of land,” Roe said.

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