Even with tight budgets, state parks deliver recreation opportunities
Tight government budgets have affected state parks. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, responsible for managing and maintaining more than 90 parks as well as generating revenue by issuing hunting and fishing licenses, had its budget cut by $114 million or 17.6 percent in the biannual 2010-12 budget. Due to the cuts, as well as wildfires and droughts in the Lone Star State, the department is looking to sign up well-heeled corporate sponsors and partners. Under the plan, companies, banks and lodging establishments could use the agency’s familiar logo and brand in exchange for cash support.
In California, the state parks are in turmoil. Following warnings that as many as 70 Golden State parks would have to close this year because of budget cuts, a secret $54 million cash stash was discovered in the California Department of Parks and Recreationcoffers, and the department director, Ruth Coleman has resigned. Over the past four years, the state has trimmed the parks department budget by more than $50 million. What’s more, the parks department has deferred or canceled $1.3 billion in maintenance. California Gov. Jerry Brown is working with legislators to determine how some of the $54 million hidden by parks department officials can be used to help keep state parks open.
Even with budget problems, state parks are key to leisure time activities in the U.S. Total attendance at state parks in the United States reached 720.6 million in 2011, which is down from the 740.7 million visitors to state parks in 2010. The number of day-use visitors dropped a little, from 680 million in 2010, to 657 million in 2011. Overnight visits, including campers and lodge visitors, grew from 61.2 million in 2010 to 63 million in 2011.
State park data, including attendance figures, are in the latest edition (Feb. 2012) of the “Annual Information Exchange” (AIX), which is produced by the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) in cooperation with North Carolina State University’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. Both day and overnight visits in fee and non-fee areas are tabulated in the NASPD reports.
Total operating expenses for state parks reached $2.27 billion in 2011. By comparison, operating expenses in 2010 totaled $2.22 billion, for an increase of about $50 million for the latest year reported. Park-generated revenue used for operations expenditures grew by almost 2 percent when comparing 2011 and 2010 data. Those revenues grew from $868.6 million in 2010 to $885.1 million in 2011, an increase of about 1.9 percent.
In a future Govpro item, we’ll take a closer look at the AIX data and state park trends. Go here to view an analysis of older AIX data.