Another Day, Another Crisis

Oh. My. Gosh.

State parks are in a crisis.

Maryland’s 49 state parks are in “a state of crisis” because of declining funding and manpower, and require an immediate infusion of both, a new study concludes.

The 30-page report, authorized by the General Assembly and paid for by a private advocacy foundation [danger, Will Robinson!], paints a grim picture of the parks system that stretches from Deep Creek Lake east to Assateague State Park. It predicts deep cuts in services – such as lifeguards at beaches and concessions at campgrounds – and closure of education programs and visitor centers.

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And what will cure this crisis? You guessed it. Money. Lots of money. Your money.

The report lays out a six-year, $284 million rebuilding program to reduce the maintenance backlog, restore the level of services and training and enhance trails and waterway access.

Don’t misunderstand. I like Maryland’s park system. I proposed to my wife at Deep Creek Lake. But I’m not sure that I like them well enough to throw about $50 million additional dollars at them each year. The overwhelming majority of them are quite nice as they are, sort of wilderness areas, and anyone who has ever eaten at one of the concession stands in a state park would hardly call that a benefit.

Usually when a liberal wants to raise your taxes to pay for something they try to convince you how it is an investment. This case in no different.

Tim Casey, president of Friends of Maryland State Forests and Parks, said that restoring parks is more than just a recreational consideration. The state Department of Business and Economic Development estimates that visitors to state parks and campgrounds each year spend more than $139 million and generate $13.5 million in tax revenue.

“If you did a back-of-the-envelope calculation, you can see the economic benefit of the parks. Even if you don’t give a hoot about parks, you should care about them as an economic engine,” Casey said.

What the economic analysis shows is that the state parks have a budget of $32 million and generate $15 million in revenue and $13.5 million in tax revenue. This means the state parks run and a deficit of at least $4 million per year. If you do the “back of the envelope” calculation that Mr. Casey advocates what you see is that the park system is bleeding red ink.

How much of the alleged $139 million in economic benefits would go away if the the park system? I suspect not much. The idea that there is a dollar for dollar linkage is simply silly. The idea that giving them another $47 million each year is going to substantially increase the economic impact is equally tenuous.

As an aside, if you really want silly ideas, just read the report demanding more of our money:

“Our State parks and forests play an important role in many sectors of Maryland’s economy, including tourism industries, recreational activity, retail sectors, and employment, to the extent that the economic benefit is tenfold – for every $1 budgeted for a park or forest, $10 goes back into the State’s economy;”

Were that the case, the $32 million we are currently shelling out would yield $320 million and not the $139 million the report claims. But what’s a couple of hundred million anyway?

Not every park needs a full panoply of services and programs. Lots of Maryland’s parks would be fine as wilderness areas offering nothing but campground hookups and picnic areas. There are flagship properties which should be fully funded. Deep Creek Lake and Assateague Island come to mind. But these areas can be self sufficient.

Life is tough all over. Right now we are being hit with a huge tax increase and the Governor claims to be interested in solving our budget’s “structural deficit.” The parks system is part of that deficit. This is not the time to toss a lot of money at a marginal program.

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