Tuesday, July 05, 2016

National Parks could learn from Utah’s state parks management

By Matthew Anderson

This year the National Park Service is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. But as the agency enters its second century, our national parks are in trouble. A recent study conducted by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) noted that the Park Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion — an amount five times that of its last budget from Congress. 

The symptoms of this backlog are evident throughout our national parks. Nearly half the roadways in national parks are rated in "fair" or "poor" condition. Dozens of bridges are considered "structurally deficient." And 6,700 miles — more than one-third of all trails in the entire park system — are in "poor" or "seriously deficient" condition. Not only does this jeopardize the safety and quality of visitors' experiences, but it threatens the very resources the National Park Service was created to protect. 

However, all is not gloom and doom in our public parks. PERC's latest report showed that state parks are providing the high-quality recreational opportunities that visitors seek, and doing so responsibly. Most people don't realize that Western state parks receive nearly twice as many visitors as national parks in the West.

Take Utah's state parks. These parks are incredibly popular, receiving more than 200 visitors per acre in 2013 — more than any other Western state and 47 times as many visits per acre as national parks in the West. Utah's parks are better managed as well. In 2013, visitor fees covered 66 percent of Utah state parks' expenditures, while national park visitor fees accounted for just 10 percent of the National Park Service's management costs. 

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