State parks problems

 

 State budget shortfalls have hurt many public amenities – including state parks. Starting in 2009, many Western states cut back on hours, staffing, and maintenance at their parks, and even closed some outright. Just about the only park system that didn't suffer was Oregon's, which uses lottery money to fund its parks.

Now, in California, where officials plan to close up to 70 state parks, the National Park Service has come to the rescue. The agency will help keep three state parks open that are within or next to national parks, in part by adding visitation fees. And private donors have raised money to save a few parks, like Henry Coe State Park. But dozens of others will in all likelihood be shut down by next summer.

 

According to the National Parks Traveler:

The agreement between the California State Parks (CSP) and the National Park Service (NPS) was announced last week, and will run on a trial basis for a year. If it proves successful, it can be renewed with the concurrence of both agencies.

The California State Parks included in the new agreement are Tomales Bay State Park, located within both Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Samuel P. Taylor State Park, located within Golden Gate National Recreation Area; and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, located within Redwood National and State Parks near Crescent City.

The partnership is just the first in what officials hope will be many such collaborations between public, private and government entities, reports the  San Francisco Chronicle:

"It's very exciting news, and it is a continuation of a long-term collaboration between the National Park Service and the California State Parks," said Jerry Emory, the spokesman for the California State Parks Foundation. "It's not a silver bullet, but it keeps some parks open."

Meanwhile, in Washington state, parks began charging entrance fees in July to try to make up for a two-year, $30 million budget cut.  In Arizona, several threatened parks were saved, at least temporarily, by communities chipping in; unless local governments do the same in Utah, that state may close 15 parks.

These strapped state governments appear to be relying on the fact that everyone loves parks, and that it's much more likely that communities and donors will pitch in to keep a park open than to pay for, say, road repair. A state dollar saved on parks is a dollar that can be used to plug a hole elsewhere.

But when no savior is forthcoming and a park does have to close, it's hard to keep people out – those parks basically become "free-for-alls", unsupervised and unmaintained.  The list of potential problems is long, including risks to visitors, increased wildfires, and illegal pot plantations, and may mean that closed parks ultimately cost money rather than saving it. State and national parks make major contributions to the economy of nearby towns and closures have hurt local employment, reports the Las Vegas Sun:

“The impact is the same in most park systems across the country,” says Daniel McLean, the Southern Nevada vice president of the state’s Recreation and Parks Society. “For every dollar spent on that park, that dollar goes back into the economy multiple times. It can generate 15 to 20 dollars for the local economy. You take that out of rural areas and you’ve got a significant impact.”

 Photo from Barnabe Peak, Samuel P. Taylor State Park, California, by Chris Alexander, Creative Commons

Jodi Peterson is HCN's managing editor.

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