Friday, June 10, 2011

Budget cuts hurt state parks--and rural economies

This story about state park budget cuts appeared in the New York Times earlier this week. The dateline is Anacortes, Washington, population 16,533, home of Deception Pass State Park, which is one of a number of Washington State parks that will begin charging entrance fees on July 1. The story by William Yardley also discusses cuts to and closures of state parks in other states, including California, Ohio, Idaho, New York, Arizona and Florida. Here's an excerpt about an Ohio plan to allow energy exploration in the state's parks:

The resignation some feel about the Ohio plan is rooted in a broader sense nationwide that the status of parks has permanently changed, that parks officials cannot passively presume that lawmakers, Democrat or Republican, will rescue them. Yet some officials also worry that rising fees, rising gas prices and a need to “market” parks to people who will spend money will keep those with lower incomes from enjoying public lands.

“We’re catering more to Middle America, to middle-class recreationists, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Richard Just, the chief planner at the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and immediate past president of National Association of Recreation Resource Planners.

I thought these comments about class were, well, interesting--in part because people don't tend to acknowledge the existence of class. Of course, "middle class" is a pretty amorphous category. Growing up, I thought state and national parks were appealing, but for the affluent--and out of my family's reach, in part because we didn't take vacations at all. Now I am a big "consumer" of such parks, and I do like to think of myself as middle class. So, sadly, Mr. Just may be correct. The parks were perhaps never very accessible to those with lower incomes, never mind the onset of entrance fees.

This brings me to another observation: middle class park goers may also represent wealth transfers from the urban places where many (most?) of them live to the rural locales of many state parks. The story doesn't discuss the impact of park closures and entrance fees on the areas surrounding the parks--the places where tourists purchase fuel, camping supplies, food, lodging, and other recreation activities. Many of these places are rural by one definition or another. For example, one of the impacted parks is Farragut State Park in Idaho, about 30 miles from Metropolitan Coeur d'Alene, in Kootenai County. But thinking in terms of this Idaho park also points up another characteristic associated with some rural areas, especially those that are home to parks: they are in "amenity rich" locales, which already fare better economically than most other rural areas.

No comments: