Bumper to bumper traffic

A long line of cars waited to get into Leonard Harrison State Park.

State parks on both sides of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon — Leonard Harrison and Colton Point — saw bumper-to-bumper traffic this past weekend. One park reached capacity and had to turn visitors away for a while.

Ben Stone, park manager of the Hills Creek Complex, which includes the parks at the canyon, said that with leaf season and added attendance this year, Leonard Harrison could not handle the number of visitors during the three-day holiday weekend.

A line of vehicles was backed up for about a mile at Leonard Harrison State Park on Saturday when the parking lots were full. The park was prepared to handle a large group of people, as it does every year during the fall foliage season, but the crowd was more than they have seen in the past.

“Not in my 15 years as a park manager have I seen Leonard Harrison Park like that,” said Stone. “The gorge, views and fall foliage brings people out.”

Attendance generally increases from the last weekend in September into October and through Columbus weekend, but not to this extent. Stone said that they bring additional park staff from around the region to help people move through the park, facilitate traffic and parking. This year, Leonard Harrison Park experienced a greater capacity than they had parking spots.

“I guess the COVID pandemic and the push for outdoor recreation in the state park system has been put to the test this year,” said Stone. “Harrison is at a dead end so there is no through road. The traffic coming in has to turn around and has to go back out.”

Cherry Springs State Park also saw larger-than-typical crowds this year, which made it a challenge to manage the park, Stone said. But the Potter County park did not reach a tipping point like Leonard Harrison did this past weekend.

“I give all the credit to our staff that was working there and the extra staff that came in to help us out. They did a great job with what they had. It was a challenging situation,” said Stone.

Stone recognized the challenge and put an advisory on website informing people that they would be having a busy holiday weekend. He encouraged people who wanted to visit the canyon to do so during a weekday because of the anticipated weekend crowd.

Stone said that the park is currently in the final steps of a design to enhance visitor and traffic flow. They are looking to increase the amount of parking in parking lots and installing a roundabout at the entrance of the park. Having a continual movement of traffic through the parking lot would help should the same situation arise in the future. Stone hopes the construction will happen in 2022.

“Continue enjoying Pennsylvania state parks, plan ahead and go to the park website. We can put advisories up in the short term. If you are checking out one of Pennsylvania’s state parks go to the park’s website and see if there is additional information or try calling or emailing ahead and ask questions,” said Stone.