Without funding, Utah may close some state parks

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Some state parks may be closed and others privatized if Utah lawmakers don’t provide additional funding in next year’s budget, officials warned lawmakers during a legislative committee this week. The state parks need about $3 million in funding to simply keep parks operating, Director Mary Tullius said. That amount of money was given by the Legislature for this year, but it was not ongoing money. Tullius said 23 full-time employees have already been laid off and operational hours reduced because of budget cuts in previous years. That has impacted everything from law enforcement to maintenance at the 43 state parks. Steps have been taken in recent months to further reduce overhead, such as coordinating with local governments or contracting with private businesses. But efforts to turn some parks over to county governments failed to garner any interest among the 21 councils and commissions they contacted, Tullius said. Some parks are being pushed to cover their own operational costs, such as those with golf courses. But Tullius said that is not an immediate fix, especially without greater flexibility to increase fees. “This has been something that state parks and a lot of folks have struggled with for a long time,” Tullius said. Michael Styler, the director of the Department of Natural Resources, said the state parks should be given the ability to raise rates “like a Marriott” during peak seasons or weekends. Hardest hit could be the heritage parks that have historical or cultural value, but don’t generate heavy traffic and generally need larger subsidies to continue operating, Styler said. The loss of those types of parks concerned Rep. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who said lawmakers needed to spend the money needed to keep them open. “These aren’t going to be self-sustaining in some cases … but some things you can’t put a price tag on,” Vickers said. “When you talk about the education aspect of things, you cannot put a price tag on it.”

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