State Parks: When in Doubt, Bail 'em Out

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Amid the state's budget crisis last spring, California's governor threatened to close more than 70 state parks by the spring of 2012 to save the state money. This threat of park closure is a common occurrence in California and other states. Typically, the threat garners enough concern and uproar that funds are found. In fact, never in California Park’s century of existence has a park been closed due to lack of funding.

There are alternatives for state park systems to get out from under the ebb and flow of state finances. The state could lease park operations, for example, as has been demonstrated by private firms such as Recreation Resource Management (RRM). This is the topic of my recent PERC Case Study and a forthcoming RRM conference on public-private partnerships in parks.

The current sentiment to "bail out" troubled entities in our nation, however, is overwhelming. The National Park Service has negotiated with California State Parks to take over operations of at least three of the parks threatened for closure. But the National Park Service is not known for its abundant finances or even its stewardship. Add in the current federal financial situation and it does not seem to be a prime time for federal agencies to take on more responsibility and acreage for management.

Nonetheless, rather than let private entrepreneurs provide the desired recreation opportunities at the same or lower user price and make a dime, park agency bureaucrats prefer to have all taxpayers split the tab. It doesn't have to work this way.

To read the case study, click here.

Holly Fretwell is a Research Fellow at PERC and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University where she has taught  introductory economics, macroeconomics, natural resources and environmental economics. She works with the Foundation for Teaching Economics, giving workshops for  high school teachers to improve their skills in teaching and...
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