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Utah Travel Headlines

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Utah State Parks Are In Danger Of Being Closed

Utah State Legislators are working with budget numbers, and are considering slashing funding for Utah State Parks. If that happens, some parks will need to be closed.

Members of the public who appreciate Utah’s diverse state parks are encouraged to contact legislators and express support for the parks.

The Salt Lake Tribune has this article about the latest rounds of budget proposals, and how they may affect parks. Below are excerpts.

Utah State Park officials told legislators Wednesday that if a proposed $2.8 million cut in general funds for the next fiscal year occurs, parks will be closed.

"We’ve gone from lean and mean to emaciated and violent," said Department of Natural Resources Director Mike Styler, speaking before the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee.

State Parks Director Mary Tullius said her agency approached 21 local governments to see if they would be willing to take over park management and not one expressed interest.

The agency, whose properties hosted 4.8 million visitors last year that generated $67 million in economic benefit, has cut 43 full-time positions — about 18 percent of its workforce — since 2010. It eliminated eight law-enforcement positions July 1, and decommissioned 14 other law-enforcement positions.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, proposed doing away with all state park and wildlife officers and allowing county sheriffs to enforce fishing, hunting, boating and off-highway vehicle regulations within their jurisdictions.

Tullius said legislators could help increase money coming into state parks by raising camping fees, which she said are among the lowest in the West, and increasing golf course fees. She also said the Legislature should give her agency the flexibility to charge more on busy weekends and reduce them during the week or during times when parks are under-utilized.

Many of the members of the committee expressed support for state parks. Rep. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, expressed support for Frontier Heritage State Park, which requires a state subsidy. He wondered what would happen to the park’s collection of items illustrating the area’s history should it close.

"There are some things you just can’t put a price tag on," he said. "Some parks are in a different category. We need to figure out a way to solve the financial problem and keep parks open."

Tullius said there is a proposal to privatize the Green River State Park golf course, the facility that was tops on the list auditors said legislators should consider closing. In addition, she said that as an experiment Otter Creek State Park was operated for the past six months by a private concessionaire. The contract ended this month and officials are studying whether it was successful.


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