Urban Sprawl Has Decimated The Pocono’s Natural Beauty

The Poconos was once a peaceful, serene community with more nature and less hauteur. Versification aside, urban sprawl has been detrimental to wildlife and natural resources affecting all of Pennsylvania. According to www.envirothonpa.org, Pennsylvania had the nation’s 5th highest land development in 1997. While this might be a somewhat old statistic, the truth remains the same today.

In one of the most ironic contradictions, Pennsylvania also ranks 4th on the most protected agricultural/forested land in the United States, yet the most threatened. It’s easy to see urban sprawl. It may seem difficult to notice it because it’s a gradual effect. One Starbucks here, a Dunkin Donuts there, one by one, these companies and businesses encroach on natural wildlife and land. Places that were once quiet, sparse communities turned into textbook suburbia right before their eyes. Some people are old enough to remember what Pennsylvania, especially in the Poconos, was like. Mom and pop grocery stores and other privately owned businesses dominated their sectors. Things were more intimate. When you ran into someone, most likely you knew who they were or at least their family. Nature was primarily left undisturbed, and the Poconos had a small-town atmosphere and was known as the honeymoon capital of the world (with the invention of the champagne/heart bathtub).

It was only until the late 80’s/early 90’s that this reputation for being a peaceful, quiet nature getaway diminished into what it is today, Suburbia. The early 90s brought about an influx of people within the tri-state area as well as from outside it. Housing projects rapidly increased with much severity during the 1992-1997 period, when numerous housing developments were created to supply the demand to those from New York and New Jersey. An ever-increasing number of people continued to move into the Pocono communities, such as A Pocono Country Place, Still Water Lakes, Penn Estates, Emerald Lakes, etc. Although the rate we are developing land has hit somewhat of a decline in recent years, it is still prevalent in our everyday lives.

As of 2003, developed land in the commonwealth approximately covered 15.3% of all land. Pennsylvania is tasked with the mission of reducing the damage done to natural areas, using said natural spaces effectively, and keeping the development of the keystone state moving forward. Life as we know it has changed in the Poconos. Urban sprawl impacts the climate as humans worldwide continue to develop their countries. A warmer and wetter climate is brought to Pennsylvania due to an unrelenting global increase in average temperature. It snows less each year and usually ends up being a blizzard. Buildings, restaurants, grocery stores, strip malls, and gas stations weren’t the only thing to change in the Poconos; the climate had changed too in only a period of 20-30 years. Some areas are inundated with the plague of ineptitude when it comes to their inability to retain an adequate snowpack. This affects the Skiing industry on a massive scale. Businesses such as Camelback, Jack Frost, and Shawnee have shorter ski seasons, often supplementing the snow with a snow machine (which is costly to the business and doesn’t provide the same feeling as real packed snow). This will also lead to worsened ozone levels threatening the more well-developed areas with much higher risks of air pollution as our state develops. There is, however, a silver lining to this dark cloud in that summer recreational activities will be extended due to increased temperatures. However, there is an increased risk of flooding and droughts that might dull that silver lining to a faint glimmer by posing a risk to the safety and availability of these activities.

The biodiversity of Pennsylvania is imperiled by both human development and climate change. Of the  25,000 different species of organisms surviving in the keystone state, 800 of them are either endangered, rare, or threatened; 150 of them even went extinct from history. With the high emphasis Pennsylvania (according to survey research) places on environmental protection, the situation is filled with unintended irony. Wetland ecosystems are some of the state’s most vital. They are the liver of the metaphorical body that is Pennsylvania, straining toxins from the water and cleaning it. Wetlands can even control floods by acting as a natural sponge that traps the water and then slowly releases it back out. Forests help with air quality and provide much-needed oxygen to the plants, animals, and other organisms that require it—controlling soil erosion by having strong root systems and removing carbon from the atmosphere. It’s no wonder why people came here for the fresh air back in the 1990s.

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