By Mikel Chavers
Cash-strapped New York has a plan to save a little money: Shut down state parks. Sound like a new approach? It isn’t. Other states either are considering or have considered the same budget remedy.
New York plans to close 41 parks and 14 historic sites; the state currently operates 178 parks and 35 historic sites, according to the Times Union in Albany. N.Y.
“These actions were not recommended lightly, but they are necessary to address our state’s extraordinary fiscal difficulties,” Carol Ash, commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, told the newspaper.
The cuts will save an estimated $6.3 million in an effort to deal with statewide budget cuts.
New York isn’t alone in the approach to shut down state parks. The Nevada Legislature is considering closing state parks in efforts to deal with an estimated $900 million budget gap, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
The state’s Interim Finance Committee, which met Feb. 18 in Las Vegas, is expected to consider following the lead of other cash-strapped states that closed parks, including California and Arizona, the Las Vegas Sun reports.
Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford’s proposal considers shutting down all state parks to save money. Horsford told the newspaper teachers and other primary services are more important than recreation. He told the newspaper parks that are entirely fee-supported could be exempt from the closures.
“It’s part of our quality of life, but the choice is between doing that or thousands of teachers laid off statewide, which is bad for education, bad for schools and bad for the economy,” he told the Las Vegas Sun. According to his estimates, $8 million could be saved over the biennium, the newspaper reports.
In Idaho, a similar plan to close down two state parks to deal with state budget cuts is so far being avoided, according to the Bellingham Herald.
But the budget constraints still remain on Idaho’s parks, so much so that Parks Director Nancy Merrill is pitching a plan to wean state parks off state funding altogether, according to The Spokesman-Review.
The proposed plan means parks would be self-sustaining and would raise the revenue by raising park fees, charging school groups that visit parks and by closing two parks, Three Island Crossing near Glenns Ferry and Land of the Yankee Fork State Park in central Idaho, for the winter months to save money, according to the newspaper.
It’s not the first time the state has gone down the path of closing parks, Merrill said. In 1981, because of budget cuts, the state closed three parks, two of which were reopened later, she said.
Even though state parks may not be what most call “core” services, “we realize that parks have a lot of impact,” Merrill said.
For more on what cash-strapped states are doing, check out the March/April issue of Capitol Ideas magazine.