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A bad experience in Pennsylvania Parks.... More....

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Welcome to Pennsylvania - Now GET OUT!
- by E.A. Zimmerman

We assumed the State of Pennsylvania Dept. of Natural Resources’ motto (see title) was a clever way to encourage visitors to go outside and enjoy nature.  Little did we know that they actually meant GET OUT.

Cedar Creek
After being ejected from a Pennsylvania State Park, we headed to the delightful Cedar Creek campground in the hills of West Virginia, where the campsites are prettier, cheaper and pets are welcome.

It began with a plan to spend two weeks RV camping in the wilds of the keystone state.  Our high maintenance indoor feline does not fare well when left behind, so he always accompanies us.  We are advocates of both “no child left inside,” and “no cats left outside.”   Our cat thoroughly enjoys watching the world through the windows.

Doug researched online which PA campgrounds allow pets, as some states are restrictive.  The Ohiopyle website showed a “dog” icon, indicating pets were permitted.  Therefore, we planned to explore the remote park for the first five days. 

We endured the PA interstate construction that seems to have been going on continuously since the dawn of time, followed by a long, white-knuckler of a drive into the park on steep roads and hairpin turns. 

Since Pennsylvania has no budget yet, the campground gate was unstaffed, so we called in our reservation.  Upon landing, I was a bit disappointed that most of the sites were sloped, densely wooded and dark. We took off for a few hours to hike.  We returned to the nearly empty campground around 7:00 p.m.   I was in my pajamas and Doug was eating dinner when a park officer drove up an hour and a half later.

We said howdee and invited him inside.  He said “We noticed you have a cat.  You will have to leave the campground, as no pets are allowed.” We explained that we had chosen Ohiopyle specifically because the website said pets WERE allowed, and showed him the printout of their webpage.  He politely said the website must be wrong, and we had to leave.  We pointed out that our cat was exclusively an indoor creature, we were already hunkered down for the night, it would take us a while to break camp, but more importantly, the unlit windy roads were unsafe for night driving in a big rig.  While disappointed, we would of course depart first thing in the morning.  He informed us that was not an option.  He left and called his supervisor and confirmed.  I asked if he told the supervisor about the website error and our safety concern, and he admitted he had not.  I asked if I could speak to the supervisor to explain our concern.  He refused. 

I can see why dogs or outdoor cats are not allowed in some parks, as they could harass wildlife and other campers.  In these hard economic times, some parks are having problems with people dumping off pets.  If pet waste is not disposed of in trashcans, it could spread disease to wildlife and humans.  However, the officer at Ohiopyle was unable to explain why indoor cats were prohibited, and simply said there were no exceptions.  We were led down the wrong path by the government’s own website, but they did not stand behind the information they provided. We left for a harrowing drive out. 

In this situation, employees had the option to make a reasonable accommodation in light of the fact that we were misled by their mistake. They chose not to.  In turn, we chose not to spend any more of our time or money in their state.  We headed to a lovely and peaceful campground in West Virginia where pets are welcome.   We met lots of friendly West Virginians, including a couple who taught us to play “corn hole,” which is kind of like horseshoes except you try to throw bags of corn into a hole in a platform.  The rates for sites are also twenty percent lower that Pennsylvania’s. 

Pennsylvania not only lost our goodwill - they also lost two weeks of tourist-related revenue.  We would have spent hundreds of dollars on campground fees, gasoline, tolls, grocery and gift shopping, auto parts, restaurants, museums and more.  With government, businesses and non-profit organizations struggling financially, it is not in the State’s best interest to turn off visitors.  This incident also underscores how every interaction an employee has with visitors can have repercussions that can help or harm the local economy.    

Epilogue:  While enjoying our stay in West Virginia, I did receive an email from a park employee that our reservation payment had been refunded, and acknowledging that the website was erroneous and they planned to change it.  However, so far, our impression of the State remains unchanged.


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Originally published in the Villager newspapers on October 2, 2009


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