A look at Beltzville overcrowding
Max Olsen, who is part of a team studying overcrowding at Beltzville State Park, speaks with attendees at a forum held Thursday night. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
A number of state and federal agencies were on hand for a forum to discuss overcrowding at Beltzville State Park. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
State and federal agencies were on hand at Towamensing Fire Company Thursday to hear residents’ ideas about how to improve Beltzville State Park.
Researchers from Penn State University’s Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management department are working with a consultant to study the use and occupancy of the park.
This summer they will be working on the ground and in the air — taking aerial photos — to document how many people use the park, especially on holiday weekends.
“We’re doing aerial photos, we’re doing traffic counts, aerial photo counts and surveys with visitors, trying to correlate those things,” said Allen Graefe, the professor who is heading the project.
Findings will be presented later this year.
Researchers were at the park during Labor Day weekend. There was not much overcrowding, but it also rained that weekend.
“All the peak holidays are going to be included. I think the peak is going to be Fourth of July — there’s a lot of weather dependence also,” Graefe said.
Alma Holmes, the park manager at Beltzville, said she has seen the study taking place and does what she can to accommodate them. Holmes said that Beltzville is not the only park that has to deal with overcrowding, so this research could help other parks as well.
She said that there is a lot of interest how to address the overcrowding, especially from local residents.
“They love the park. Everybody loves the state parks. It’s a good thing,” Holmes said.
Residents shared their thoughts with the gathered officials.
Jerry Villa said the park becomes inundated with visitors from out of state around the holiday weekends. He said he’s seen cars lined up on Route 209 because there isn’t enough room to park at the lake.
“It’s just getting overwhelming. Holidays are worse, but it’s just during the summer. The hotter it is, the worse it is,” he said.
Steve Molo, who lives near the park, said he caught fish in the lake for many years, but after a number of incidents, including seeing people changing their children’s diapers and leaving them on the beach, he doesn’t enjoy it anymore.
“I’m thinking about not even fishing there anymore. And I got a record catfish out of there,” he said.
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees the state’s parks, maintains that they are prohibited by state law from charging a fee. Some parks with pools charge fees, but officials said that is because they are third-party concessionaires.
State Rep. Doyle Heffley says he would support a fee to alleviate some of the overcrowding on holiday weekends. But he said that the residents he spoke to weren’t unanimous about it. Overall, he was pleased with the dialogue.
“I heard people who said charge a fee, I heard people who said don’t charge a fee because they’ll park in front of my house, I heard from people that said lock the gate, I heard people say let them in,” Heffley said.
Heffley said he’s happy that there is a study group working on the problem.
“I’m anxious to see what they come up with,” he said.
While Beltzville Dam is a federal project, Beltzville State Park is managed by DCNR, so it had a heavy presence at Thursday’s meeting. Matt Azeles said DCNR is trying to deal with the overcrowding on its own, outside of the study.
“We’re trying to resolve some of the issues that happen occasionally at the park because of the number of people who want to use the park, which is a good problem to have,” Azeles said.