Monday, May 31, 2010

State park closures deal blows to rural economies

Don't miss William Yardley's story in today's New York Times, "Padlocking the Gates to the Great Outdoors." Here's the lede:
In these hard economic times, when much of the country could use a walk in the woods or a night in the mountains or a wade in the river or a picnic by the lake, states across the country seem to be creating obstacles to the great outdoors.

Seeking to streamline their budgets, states have made their parks easy targets. Campgrounds are closing, fees are increasing, employees have been laid off.

Yardley's story links to four others about specific park closures--or near closures that have been averted--from around the country: Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona, population 10,192; Bonny Lake State Park in Idalia, Colorado (not even a Census Designated Place); Niagara Springs State Park, Wendell, Idaho, population 2,338; and John Boyd Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, New York, population 2, 705. Few of the stories mention the rural communities neighboring these park, but William Yardley's story about the Idaho park does. He reports that members of the Brother Speed Motorcycle Club, who have an annual party at the park, have volunteered to mow the grass there in order to help keep the park open. This effort has been lauded by the mayor of nearby Wendell, who recognizes the event's economic importance to his town:

On Saturday, the bikers were the guests of honor at a picnic hosted by Mayor Brad Christopherson in Wendell, a tiny farming town next to Niagara Springs that has come to count on their patronage.

“I grew up here,” said Mr. Christopherson, 47, who was elected last fall, “and it was always quite exciting as a kid to see this big group of 200 to 300 bikers come to town.”

Yardley observes, however, that law enforcement officers are less keen. They note that seven members of Brother Speed are in prison or on parole, mostly for drug charges. These tough economic times do make strange bedfellows, I guess.

In the story out of Voorheesville, New York, though, the person who volunteered to mow the grass is a state assemblyman.

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