Budget Cuts Causing State Park Closures

By: Clay Duncan, Staff Member

The recreational and environmental value provided by state parks across the U.S. is soon to be diminished due to lack of funding.  State budget cuts are resulting in closures of many parks nationwide, as well as a reduction in operations in many that will remain open.[1]  Despite their perception as mere places of leisure, state parks are important national attractions whose continued maintenance is important to the preservation of America’s emphasis on environmental upkeep.  With funds scarce and expenses rising, states must become creative with ways to get the necessary money to keep these parks alive.
California closed a whopping 70 parks, while Arizona cut funding to parks completely.[2]  Other states have made multimillion dollar cuts to funding previously allocated to state park maintenance.[3]  The necessity of these closures is not for lack of attendance nationally, as U.S. state parks saw a 14 million visitor increase from 2009 to 2010.[4]  What’s more, state parks are fairly large employers in a country troubled with unemployment, providing some 270,000 jobs across the country.[5]
A likely reason for these budget cuts to state parks is that states do not receive matching funds from the federal government for the funds it spends on them,[6] thus such spending equates to a dollar for dollar reduction in money that could be used elsewhere.  Even those federal programs that have provided funding for state parks are at risk of being eliminated.[7]  One such program is the Recreational Trails Program, which “provides funds to the States to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both nonmotorized and motorized recreational trail uses.”[8]
To make up for the loss in funding once provided by the budgets, some states have resorted to raising fees in exchange for unlimited parks access,[9] and seeking corporate and nonprofit partnerships by offering them advertising opportunities and control over operations.[10]  In Ohio and Pennsylvania, legislation has been introduced which proposes leasing state park land to oil and gas drillers.[11]  Proponents of the legislation see it as a necessary measure to raise the requisite funds for much needed park projects, while skeptics see such a move exposing parks to corporate greed.[12]
State funding is scarce in most areas of the country, so budgetary cutbacks rarely come as a surprise.  But if an effective replacement for this source of money is not found and state park closures proceed as projected, Americans will soon be deprived of great opportunities to see this country’s natural landscape.

[i] Douglas Shinkle, Parks in Peril, National Conference of State Legislatures (Jan. 2012), http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/env-res/parks-in-peril.aspx.
[ii] Id.
[iii] Id.
[iv] Id.
[v] Id.
[vi] Shinkle, supra note 1.
[vii] Id.
[viii] Recreational Trails Program, U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails/index.cfm (last updated Apr. 27, 2012). 
[ix] Shinkle, supra note 1.
[x] Id.
[xi] Id.