Our Conservation Legacy
The Pennsylvania Wilds is a special place in America.
At the heart of this place is 2.1 million acres of public land, more than Yellowstone National Park. People come here to see our wild elk and gaze at our dark skies, to paddle our National Wild & Scenic Rivers and fish our more than 2,000 wild trout streams.
Our region is big. It is larger than Massachusetts or Vermont or New Hampshire. We cover a quarter of the Commonwealth and are home to a very proud 4 percent of the state’s population. It takes four hours to drive from one side of the Wilds to the other, and almost all of that is through the woods, some of it over mountains.
We are a big working forest, which makes our story complex – and inspiring. Especially when you consider where we’ve been.
As hard as it is to imagine, this forested region was once so depleted of its trees and wildlife that people abandoned the land and made jokes when the government started to buy it up to create state and national forests. This was the dawn of the 20th Century, when the country screamed for more everything to fuel expansion amid the industrial revolution. Pennsylvania was the nation’s timber capital, and most of those trees came from here. Wildfires and flooding raged. Our now famous elk went extinct. Whitetail deer nearly suffered the same fate.
100 years of conservation have restored the Pennsylvania Wilds to what it is today. There are things that have been learned on our landscape, and continue to be learned here, that have informed public lands management and sustainable forestry practices far beyond our borders. The first PA game lands ever purchased are here. The first PA state forest lands ever purchased are here. PA’s only National Forest is here. Our region has more Civilian Conservation Corps camps than most states. It was here that Howard Zahniser drew inspiration to pen the nation’s still standing Wilderness Act of 1964. It is here that today you’ll find America’s largest block of FSC-certified public forestland, and many people still making their living from the woods — as loggers and sawmill operators, outfitters and artists, biologists and gas drillers.
Balance is not something you hear a lot about these days, but here it is a way of life because that’s what being a publicly managed working forest is all about – striving for balance. It is not an easy path, but it is one that has paid off. It’s a big part of the reason we have a $1.7 billion annual tourism industry, the reason we are home to 70 percent of the state’s finest headwaters, the reason our landscape is able to act as the living filter for so many municipal water supplies, the reason we are able to help fund our kids’ schools through timber harvests, the reason more families are coming here to get away from their phones and back to their roots.
As our friend Ed McMahon says, ‘No place stays special in the world today by accident.’ And that’s definitely true of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
Our story can be explored in world-class conservation visitor facilities around the region – high-performance buildings that are great learning labs in their own right for how they try to conserve energy.
It can be unearthed by visiting our region’s locally-owned businesses and is reflected in many of the products handmade by our region’s hundreds of skilled artisans.
Take to our wilderness — 50 state game lands, 29 state parks, 9 state and national forests, 16,000 miles of streams and rivers — and it will change you. Chances are it will make you more grateful. And more practical. And a better steward.
As much as a place the Pennsylvania Wilds is a movement, an effort by people who live and work and play here to own and honor our region’s past and brighten its future, to be part of a legacy that began long ago to keep our place special and working for future generations. The Wilds work is ‘a gentle sharing of the things we hold most dear,’ as our conservationist friend and former PA Wilds Planning Team Chair, the late Jan Hampton, once told a crowd. We invite you to join us on this journey as visitors, as stewards, as investors.