State of the Beach/State Reports/PA/Beach Access

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Pennsylvania Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access54
Water Quality54
Beach Erosion9-
Erosion Response-7
Beach Fill4-
Shoreline Structures5 2
Beach Ecology2-
Surfing Areas14
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}


Pennsylvania is known as a "low-water mark" state, meaning that the owners of property bordering the shoreline own and pay taxes on it to the low-water mark, which is set at 568.6 feet above sea level.

Pennsylvania owns the lake bottom from the low-water mark to the international border, while the state and federal governments own the water.

Pennsylvania additionally keeps a form of easement between the low-water mark and the high-water mark, which is defined in state regulations as 572.8 feet above sea level, to allow for migration and navigation along the shoreline, he said.

The high- and low-water marks are based on 1955 Great Lakes data.

A legal case involved the Little Juniata River in Huntingdon County but had potential implications for Pennsylvania’s coastal zones. A private fishing club, with control of both riparian banks over a 1.3 mile stretch, began erecting fences across the river and otherwise restricting access to the river bottom itself, deemed by the agencies to be submerged lands of the commonwealth. A January 31, 2007 court decision confirmed that historically navigable waters of the commonwealth belong to the people of the commonwealth. The resource agencies have an obligation to protect these rights, including the rights of future generations. A June 15, 2007 decision went on to enjoin the defendants “from interfering with the public’s rights in the Little Juniata, including the posting and/or hanging of signs, advertising the Little Juniata River as private waters and threatening, harassing and otherwise attempting to exclude the public from fishing, boating, wading and/or recreating on and in the Little Juniata River and the submerged lands owned by the commonwealth”. These rulings basically reaffirmed the commonwealth’s long-standing position.

An article Erie's lakeshore: open to the public, but with limits appeared in on July 11, 2010.

Site Inventory

Pennsylvania's Coastal Resources Management (CRM) Program reports that on the Lake Erie shoreline there are:

  • 36.8 miles available for public access
  • 51 State/County/Local parks
  • 32 beach shoreline access sites
  • 12 beaches and 44.7 miles with water quality monitoring

Here's a map of Presque Isle State Park Designated Swimming Areas and a map of the entire State Park.

In addition, there are Lake Erie Coastal Zone Topographic Boundary Maps.

Along the Lake Erie shoreline, Harborcreek Township was able to develop a plan for an off-shore “safe harbor” and boat launch facility at the township’s public lakeside park called Shades Beach. Funds were provided to develop plans for the Elk Creek Access Area in Girard Township, including planning for future development of the area with a proposed safe harbor and boat launch. The Erie Port Authority was able to build a 1,400-square foot public fishing pier on Dobbins Landing of the East Canal Basin of Presque Isle Bay.

There is now an Official Guide for Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests app.

The USACE took oblique images of the entire Great Lakes shoreline (USA portion only) in 2012 by plane and has provided the images for free online. Once you’ve opened the webpage, select a Great Lake (or river) of interest to you by checking the appropriate box in the left-hand window pane. You may select or deselect a particular state as well. To view an image of interest to you, zoom into the area on the Google satellite map (in middle), and then select a spot along one of the colored lines that you’d like to view. Note that each colored line represents an individual pass of an airplane. Once you select a spot along the line, a window pane on the right will appear showing you the image of that exact spot on the map. Double clicking the image will enlarge it and offer metadata. If you scroll up and down and select different images in the right-hand window pane, your camera icon on the satellite map will move along with your picture change.

Beach Attendance Records

No information was found.

Economic Evaluation of Beaches

No information specific to Pennsylvania's Lake Erie beaches was found.

An analysis of jobs in the Great Lakes region by Michigan Sea Grant published in 2011 shows that the Lakes are key to the economy of the Great Lakes states in many ways. More than 1.5 million Great Lakes-related jobs generated $62 billion in wages, in 2009. For the complete analysis, see: Great Lakes Jobs Report (PDF).

NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.

The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.

The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).

The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.

A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).

The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.

For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.

Perception of Supply and Demand

NOAA's 2006 evaluation of the Pennsylvania Coastal Program noted:

"The PCZMP faces two different challenges in providing public access to the coast in the two coastal zones. In the Delaware Estuary coastal zone, the area is highly urbanized. There are ports and port related development, commercial shipping, oil and petroleum storage facilities, and significant homeland security concerns. The opportunities for public access are often squeezed between industrial and commercially developed areas.

In the Erie coastal zone, there are more areas suitable for public access to the coast, but the need for reverse public access from the water to land is also a great concern. Weather conditions on the lake are unpredictable and quick to change, and boaters need to be able to reach “safe haven” within a short distance at almost any time.

The coastal program has worked with its networked partners to help ensure that public access is provided on all reconstruction and rehabilitation projects within both coastal zones. The issue was brought up through the PCZMP review of legislation transferring submerged Commonwealth lands. A set of public access conditions has been developed that now serves as “boilerplate” language for public access requirements needed in subsequent legislation."

CRM's Draft Assessment and Strategy (June 2010) states:

"While public access remains a very high priority for the Coastal Resource Management program, we feel existing program policies and support to our local partners is sufficient to continue the positive momentum and recent successes in the coastal zones. Both coastal zones show signs of strong local support and committed leadership toward public access goals. An expanded LECZ would provide additional opportunities to partner with Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and local communities on public access and stream habitat projects within the watershed. An expanded coastal zone would also offer the opportunity to leverage CRM funds to expand the scope of individual access projects to address other priorities such as non-point source pollution and habitat for threatened and endangered species. CRM intends to use existing program policies to begin to address the gaps identified above."

Public Education Program

No information was found.

Contact Info

Don Benczkowski
CRM Program and Technical Assistance Planner
Telephone: (814) 217-9634

State of the Beach Report: Pennsylvania
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