DCNR deputy speaks at annual meeting

LEWISTOWN – The relationship of outdoor recreation to personal health and local economies was the keynote topic Thursday evening at the Mifflin County Planning Commission’s annual dinner meeting held at Lewistown Country Club.

Cindy Adams Dunn, of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, was the guest speaker at the event, which was attended by dozens of area business and community leaders.

Dunn, who serves as DCNR’s deputy secretary for conservation and technical resources, reminisced about her experiences as a child visiting with her grandparents and relatives in Juniata County. Dunn said she has fond recollections of frequent summer visits when her relatives would bring her to Mifflin County to visit Kishacoquillas Park and have dinner at a restaurant in town.

“I still can’t get over the natural beauty of this area that you are fortunate to live in every day,” she said.

Dunn said in recent years there has been a growing connection between outdoor activities, better health and stronger economies.

“People’s mindset used to be that (outdoor) recreation was nice to do, but mostly on weekends,” Dunn said. ” That mindset is changing. It is now seen as ‘not good enough’ to just have recreation as an add-on to our lives.”

Dunn cited recent studies that highlight the larger economic value of areas that have easy access to outdoor recreational opportunities. She said that even small communities within the state have seen an influx of as much as $5 million to their local economies.

“Many people don’t realize the economic impact of people traveling to an area to enjoy outdoor recreation and then spending their money at area stores, restaurants and hotels,” she said.

Regarding the connection between outdoor recreation and improved health, Dunn referred to statistics showing child obesity rates at an all-time high throughout the country. She said on average children are now spending as much as seven hours a day in front of a screen of some sort, whether it be a television, a computer or an iPad.

“It’s not like when I was a kid and could roam around from ridge top to ridge top all day long until supper. Parents today have more reasons to be concerned about keeping their children safe when they’re outdoors,” she said.

In order to provide greater opportunities for children to enjoy outdoor activity and the health benefits that come with it, Dunn said it is important to develop connections between recreational areas and communities that are safe and accessible.

“This way parents will be more comfortable and encouraged to let their children spend more time playing outdoors,” she said.

In conclusion, Dunn said she feels Mifflin County has a very bright future moving forward, and that the county has a proud partner in DCNR.

Earlier in the evening, the Planning Commission’s annual report for 2012 was presented by Mifflin County Planning and Development Director William Gomes.

Highlights of the report included:

Progress made in updating the Mifflin County Comprehensive Plan during 2012. Gomes said important aspects of the update included the integration of transportation and land use elements, as well as the development of a more detailed Future Land Use Map based on computer modeling of development opportunities and environmental constraints in the county.

Work done in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Mifflin County Solid Waste Authority to update the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan and Municipal Waste Management Plan, respectively.

The county’s Open Space and Rural Recreation Plan, aimed at promoting recreation activities to advance active, healthy lifestyles year round for area residents and visitors. Some projects encompassed by this plan include a proposed dog park within Kish Park in Derry Township and a new boat launch along the Juniata River in the McVeytown/Mattawana area.

Updates on the Monument Square Streetscape Project in downtown Lewistown, the SEDA-Council of Governments Long-Range Transportation Plan, and allocations of Community Development Block Grants for projects undertaken by the county and some of its municipalities.

The Planning Commission members formally voted to approve the annual report as presented. Gomes said the complete annual report will be posted online within the next few weeks, and area residents will be able to view it and obtain more details by visiting www.co.mifflin.pa.us/PlanningandDevelopment.

Several awards also were presented to various individuals by Gomes and Planning Commission Chairwoman Susan Heimbach.

Heimbach presented the Community Planning Award to Mike Fisher of the SEDA-COG Housing Development Corporation. Heimbach said the award is presented to an individual, organization or community that has demonstrated leadership in community planning, and she praised the corporation for its role in developing the Mann Edge Terrace housing project.

The Planning Excellence Award was presented by Gomes to Mifflin County Industrial Development Corp. President Robert Postal. Gomes said the award recognizes an individual for contributions to planning-related activities, noting Postal’s key role in facilitating both industrial and community development within the county.

Gomes also presented Staff Awards to two long-time employees of his department: Fiscal Manager Jodie Barger for 10 years of service, and Housing Rehabilitation/Construction Manager Doug Marks for 20 years of service.