State parks face $3 million in budget cuts

Utah State Parks sustained debilitating budget cuts as a result of the recent legislative session. Associate professor of recreation resources management Steve Burr said the cuts are the culmination of three years of a suffering state economy.”Not just State Parks but a variety of agencies have had their budgets reduced,” Burr said. “A vast majority of people in the state feel that state parks are important, and they don’t want to see state parks close down.”In November, several state-run agencies – like Natural Resources, Prisons and Corrections, Health and Human Resources and Higher Education – were informed of additional upcoming budget cuts that would necessitate a closer look at innovative methods of staying out of trouble.Now that it’s March, legislators are done balancing Utah’s budget, and with a better financial outlook than was originally expected, Utah State Parks communications coordinator Deena Loyola said her agency has a better idea of where they stand.”Essentially when we start our new fiscal year July 1, our budget is $6.8 million,” Loyola said. “However, we’re not guaranteed that money for the next fiscal year. That puts our general fund allocation just at $4 million, so in two years we’ll be going from $9.8 to $4 million.”Along with this year’s $3 million reduction, two additional legislative requirements restrict the State Parks agency from raising entrance fees or closing any of its parks.”They’re really binding our hands in what we can do,” Loyola said. “That means a loss in personnel and reducing seasonal hiring from Memorial to Labor Day. We do a lot of outreach with school students, both hosting them in the parks and also going out to the schools, so we’ll probably see reductions there as well.”She said the amount of services offered within the parks might drop, too, which means fewer rangers in the parks, shorter hours of operation and less frequently cleaned garbage and toilet facilities.Brigham City resident Jeff Packer, former chairman of the Utah State Parks, said past drastic budget cuts like this have led to turning financial responsibility for certain parks over to their respective counties.”It’s most regrettable that one of the smallest departments of state government would have to absorb some of the largest hits,” Packer said. “I am not directly involved with the current budget cuts, but we had no room to cut so I don’t know how they’re taking any cuts at all.”Loyola said one possible option is to privatize certain services within the parks, such as campsites, eateries and supply stores. This would allow for additional revenue generation that would ease the shock of dwindling government subsidies. USU professor Daniel Stevens, who teaches a class about managing natural resources conflicts, said this could be a good time to consider alternative management strategies. One possibility would be creating community partnerships similar to the Adopt-a-Highway project.

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