This weekend, local, state, and national parks around the country are opening their beaches, offering discounted admission, and providing a host of special programs to attract the thousands of people looking to head outside for Memorial Day weekend. Of course, they’re also hoping to attract the associated revenue, as many parks attempt to address funding issues in the face of continuing budget cuts.
RFF experts Margaret A. Walls and Juha V. Siikamäki have been working to help decisionmakers better understand the costs and benefits of parks, and provide options for parks that are facing such challenges. Below are samples of their recent research.
“Is there a role for philanthropy in all of this? The short answer is yes. However, the real question lies in what this role should be. In some cities, conservancies and other park organizations are well established. But other communities should explore the potential of direct-giving mechanisms through the establishment of endowment or trust funds. Ultimately, these funds might be able to provide sustainable year-to-year funding through their interest earnings.”
“It is important to understand that no one-size-fits-all approach will work for state park systems given the diversity in their lands and facilities and the differences in size and scope. Moreover, the problems facing many states vary in degree of severity, with some states facing a genuine crisis and others on better footing.” Walls notes that some options to explore include: user fees, privatization, dedicated public funding, and voluntary private contributions.
“The estimated recreation services from the two million acres of state parks established between 1975 and 2007—about one-fifth the total acreage of state parks—already exceed the currently reported operation and management costs of the entire U.S. state park system ($3.85 billion versus $2.3 billion, annually). In total, the entire U.S. state park system is estimated to generate about 2.2 billion hours of nature recreation, worth an estimated time value of about $14 billion, annually. Although the capital cost sunk in park real estate is not included in this calculation, it is unlikely that adding it to the assessment would make the overall costs of state parks greater than their benefits.”
“Some … have expressed concern about a decline in participation in many outdoor activities, not just hunting and fishing. They have decried what they call “nature-deficit disorder” among children and a general lack of connection with nature and the outdoors by all Americans. The decline in outdoor recreation … is thought to be contributing to the nation’s obesity problems, another particular concern for children. Indeed, … recreation is down from previous years. On the other hand, other survey information seems to show that overall participation has held steady, but that shifts have occurred among specific activities.”