Sunlit Water

February 17, 2009

Parks

Filed under: Culture,Land,Nature,Politics — by teofilo @ 1:54 pm

I’m planning to visit Homolovi in the very near future, so the continuing saga of the recommended immediate closure of it and several other Arizona state parks has been of considerable interest to me.  It looks like the parks board did not immediately accept the recommendation and will review the available options to deal with the budgetary situation at the next regular board meeting on Friday.  The department has already been canceling special events and trying to find other ways to save money.

In addition to showing just how important aid to state governments is as a fiscal stimulative measure on the part of the federal government, this situation illustrates an interesting fact about state parks, namely, that there are really two rather different types of facilities that are typically designated as state parks.

In order to make the recommendation for which parks to close, the parks department took the annual operating costs and visitation figures and calculated the amount of money spent on each park per visitor.  The parks with the highest per-visitor expenditures were recommended for closure.  What’s interesting is that almost all of these parks, including Homolovi, are historical sites rather than natural recreation areas.

This is not a coincidence.  While most state parks in all states are locations with particular natural attractions that are useful for various recreational activities (such as camping, boating, picnicking, etc.), in many states, including Arizona, there are also state parks that are established with the end of preserving significant historical locations.  While natural parks are often established for preservation as well, of course, they generally attract a more diverse group of visitors pursuing a variety of activities, and thus have higher numbers of overall visitors and greater revenues from fees.  Historical parks not only get fewer visitors, since there’s less to do at them, they also tend to be more expensive to maintain, since they contain old, fragile structures that need frequent maintenance and repair.  Thus, they cost more, often much more, per visitor, and are the first on the chopping block when the budget crunches come.

Not all states do things this way.  New Mexico, for example, separates the two types of attractions into state parks, which are natural recreation areas under the control of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, and state monuments, which are important historical sites under the control of the Department of Cultural Affairs.  This serves to separate the different types of sites both administratively and financially, since the two departments have very different structures and funding streams, and it keeps New Mexico from facing the sort of difficult decision confronting Arizona right now.

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