A network of “greenways” may soon reach across Pennsylvania, connecting large blocks of public park and forest land, and linking urban areas with outlying suburbs.

The 80-page report calling for a statewide greenways network was issued in September by the 23-member Greenways Partnership Commission which spent nearly two years putting together the outline for what officials say will eventually be one of the nation’s most expansive systems of forested corridors and waterways.

The report does not say where the greenways will be. Rather, it sets a broad framework for how that network will be developed, and sets a timeline in which key actions will take place.

For example, the state will complete a map of all “significant” statewide greenways by 2002. That would serve as the “spine” for the entire system — connecting forests, state parks and other major sites — as well as serve as a link to local greenway systems.

The report calls for all counties to develop greenway plans by 2007, and for the state’s 2,600 local governments to develop plans by 2020. By 2020, though, the report says the state “should have a distinguishable greenways network, similar to the Interstate Highway System that is today the backbone of Pennsylvania’s system of roadways.”

“Gov. Ridge envisions a system of greenways throughout Pennsylvania — a statewide network connecting existing local greenways with new ones to form a unique, large-scale environmental and recreational asset,” said state Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary John Oliver, who co-chaired the Greenways Partnership Commission.

The DCNR will take the lead in developing the network, and will provide support to counties and local governments in developing their own plans. Oliver credited local governments for already creating numerous greenways, and said the state would work closely with them to build the broader network.

“These local greenways are certainly good for the environment, and also have a positive impact on a region’s economic climate and quality of life,” he said. “Now it’s time to take the next step.”

Greenways, as defined in the report, are “narrow ribbons of green” which may follow ridge tops, stream corridors, shorelines, or wetlands. Some are recreational corridors or scenic byways, while others function almost exclusively for environmental protection, serving as corridors for wildlife migration or the protection of rare species.

The report envisions the network being a system of “hubs and spokes.” The hubs would include state parks, forests, games lands and even towns. The spokes would be the greenways that connect natural systems, as well as recreational and cultural destinations. “The landscape connections that will result throughout Pennsylvania will create a ‘green infrastructure’ of open space vital to the health of Pennsylvania’s ecological systems and human communities,” the report said.

Among other goals in the report, is a target for designating 1,000 miles of water trails in five years, and 2,000 miles in 10 years. It calls for designating of 100 miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails annually, and establishing a greenway in every community by 2020.

The report does not call for the state to acquire greenways. Rather, the state would provide the overall vision for the network, and help to coordinate the efforts of land trusts, local governments and private landowners to protect or set aside greenways.

The state would continue to fund the efforts of others to purchase, or secure conservation easements, for greenways. The report said the state needs to explore long-term funding sources to ensure the sustainability of the Greenways Program.