William C. “Bill” Forrey (1931- ) received the Pugsley Medal in 1987. During the summer and other vacation periods while in high school, Forrey worked at a landscaping and nursery business in his hometown of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. He was the sports editor of his high school newspaper; had aspirations to be a sportswriter for a big city newspaper; and was accepted as a journalism major at the Pennsylvania State University. However, during the summer between graduating from high school and entering Penn State, he switched to landscape architecture.
Forrey graduated from Penn State in 1953 with a degree in landscape architecture. Later in his career, in 1971, when he was assistant director of state parks, Forrey earned a master’s degree in regional planning from the same university, and his thesis was on the history of Pennsylvania’s state parks. Subsequently, the thesis evolved into a book published in 1983 by the state of Pennsylvania, History of Pennsylvania’s State Parks.
When he graduated from Penn State in 1953, the Korean conflict was still underway, so he joined the Navy and went to the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He served as an engineering officer on a minesweeper and subsequently as an instructor at the Navy’s Mine Warfare School.
In1957, he was hired by an engineering firm, which had received a large contract to work on the new interstate highway system. After three years, he decided he wanted to be more involved with landscape architecture, so in 1960 he moved to the Pennsylvania state park system. It was a career move that proved to be a lifetime commitment. One week after he started this job, Forrey received a telegram from the National Park Service offering him a position as a landscape architect in the NPS Philadelphia office of Design and Construction. Had the telegram arrived a week or two earlier, his whole career would have been different.
He started as a landscape architect in the Department of Forests and Waters and was selected to be the newly created chief of the State Park Planning Section in 1961. In 1964, he became the assistant state parks director, and in 1973 he was elevated to director, a position he held for the next 19 years until his retirement in December 1992.
During his three decades with state parks, there were impressive changes. At the beginning of that period, state parks were primarily clustered in remote state forest areas, but by the time Forrey retired, they had multiplied to the point where there was a state park within 25 miles of nearly every Pennsylvania resident. Forrey modestly commented, “It was quite exciting to be able to shape and influence new efforts. I feel that I was at the right place at the right time.” However, he took the right steps to ensure these major new projects succeeded and had lasting significance. Forrey always had a worthwhile project ready when money became available. He used revenues from oil and gas leases, state bond issues, and Youth Conservation Corps labor to expand facilities.
While Forrey was director, seven new parks and three environmental education centers were opened. He successfully removed all remaining park offices from superintendents' residences, a change welcomed by many of their families. Forrey was especially interested in environmental education. The success of early federally funded environmental education centers in the state system made a lasting impression on him. He saw these were an essential element in the mission to educate the public on the role of parks.
Although new parks were opened, there was intensive pressure to reduce operating costs and in the mid-I980s, Forrey determined that the best way to serve the public was to divest eight of them to various federal agencies, which could give them better long-term care. Accordingly, three were transferred to the Corps of Engineers at sites where the Corps had built flood-control dams, and one to the National Park Service. Also, four sites were transferred to other state agencies – two to the Game Commission and two to the Bureau of Forestry. In addition, the state signed an agreement to turn over operation of one site, Susquehanna State Park, to the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce. Forrey was successful in 1981 in persuading the legislature to pass a law allowing fees collected on state parks to be spent for park operations and maintenance, whereas previously, all fees were directed into the state's general fund.
Forrey was active in an array of professional organizations since he believed they were an effective means of networking and that networking was a key source of new ideas useful for his system. He was a charter member of NRPA when it was formed in 1966. Among the ideas he borrowed from others and brought to Pennsylvania State Parks were an 800 number for park information, the state parks magazine, volunteers in parks, the chaplain program, volunteer campground hosts, focus groups, national resource management plans, and frequent training programs for state parks' staff.
In 1989, shortly before his retirement as Pennsylvania state parks director, Forrey accepted an invitation to be adjunct professor at York College of Pennsylvania. For the next 18 years, he taught a course in outdoor recreation at the college in the spring semester. After his retirement, he remained actively involved in the field through his involvement with consulting firms as marketing director and/or project manager responsible for developing park master plans and greenway trails, especially rails-to-trails projects. His experience led to community leadership positions as president of Camp Hill Borough Council, membership of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, and the Cumberland Planning Commission.
Forrey was described by the university as “a tireless supporter of Penn State.” He held an array of leadership positions in the alumni association, including a two-year term as president of the Penn State Alumni Council. In 1999, he received the highest volunteer award given by the alumni association. Among the many professional leadership positions Forrey held were president of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society; the National Society for Park Resources; and the Association of Northeastern U.S. State Park Directors.
Cupper, Dan. (1993). Our priceless heritage: Pennsylvania State Parks. Harrisburg, PA: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Smith, Gary K. (l992, Winter 11). Bill Forrey to retire. Pennsylvania State Parks.