This weekend I heard the news that California was planning to close 80 per cent of its State Parks. Wow. Basically the plan is to close all but parks that are completely self-sustaining or funded from dedicated funds. All staff with the exception of lifeguards at key beaches would be let go.
Iadmit I am biased. I have worked for Virginia State Parks for thirteen years. Before my first day of work Ihad never stepped foot in a Virginia State Park in spite of being a lifelong Virginia resident. I had been to some national parks and many local parks. As I traded in my private sector career for government service, I realized from the start that my job wasn’t going to be an occupation as much as a calling. Iknow my brethren in California are as deeply committed to the work they do. I’ve been thinking about them.
No matter how bad the bureaucracy gets or how frustrated or stressed out I am from the sheer volume of work, I go home every day feeling that what I do is important. More than seven million people visit Virginia State Parks every year. Somehow I believe that for most of them their visit to nature soothes their troubled souls. The saying is – “ATonic for the Mind, Body and Spirit.” I feel the tension and stress of life lift every time I am fortunate enough to step foot in one of our parks.
But if politicians need something whose value they can put their fingers on, State Parks are also economic engines. State Parks in Virginia account for more than $168 million in economic impact directly related to Tourism. Most of our parks are in rural areas and this tourism helps sustain those communities. Tourists don’t use schools and most other local services that cost communities so it is a good deal all over. When you factor in the local jobs we provide, the economic value is even greater. Currently, Virginia’s State Parks cost the state less than $18 million. Pretty decent investment – $18 million for a $168 million return.
In my tenure I have been in charge of overseeing the budget process for nine years. We have had some real rough times. Once we had to significantly reduce operations at five parks – we called it Caretaker status. Whenever we look at closing parks we see the futility in that scenario. First, our parks bring revenue in. Our fees and other revenue bring in about $14 million which is used to support our operations. Second, how do you close a park?If you turn off all the heat and air condition, stop doing maintenance, turn each park into a ghost town, the billions of dollars of investments deteriorate. It is really hard to padlock nature.
In the very dark history of Virginia, we closed First Landing State Park (then known as Seashore State Park). Within a couple of years you had to hack your way through the vegetation to find some of the cabins. The Will Smith movie “I Am Legend” does not exaggerate how fast nature takes back over. For what you save closing parks, it may take much more to re-open them.
A parcel of land becomes a state park because it is a special place. Could be a historic feature like a battlefield, historic home, special event in history. Could be breathtaking scenery, flora, fauna, geological. Could be quality outdoor recreation sites. Why would you want to close them.
You can’t listen to the news without knowing that the California budget is in deep trouble. The recession has hit them probably worse than it has hit Virginia. And it’s pretty bad here. Seems to me the people of California need the soothing balm of nature now more than ever. State Parks nearly everywhere have taken big budget hits in the last few years. Some have had to close some parks. But to close 80% of a system like California’s State Parks would be criminal.
For related posts:A Walk in the Park