Don't Close State Parks, Lease Them

How public-private partnerships can cut costs and restore vanishing public services

California's ongoing $15 billion budget deficit means the government should be looking to cut expenses almost everywhere. But one public service continuously draws the shortest stick in budget negotiations: state parks.

Last year the state closed or deeply reduced services in 150 state parks. The Legislature in March approved $11 million in cuts to state parks in the next fiscal year and $22 million in cuts in future years.

Recently, state parks officials announced the closure of 70 parks from among the 270-park unit system. The department said service reductions at the listed parks will begin this summer, with closures beginning in September and all listed parks closed by July 1, 2012.

With the state's perpetually tight budget, funding for education, health care, and the state's powerful prison guards union usually get top priority, leaving parks typically out in the cold year after year. The state has let the parks deteriorate to the point that they now need $1 billion in repairs and maintenance, according to the California State Parks Foundation.

There are currently two proposals being discussed in Sacramento to help keep more parks open. Senate Bill 356 would require the state to give counties and cities a chance to take over operations of closed state parks in their areas. SB386 would require the state to post a notice if it plans to close a park and list contact information so that anyone interested in taking over its operations can contact the government and get a response.

There are private companies out there that will see California's parks wasting away and envision a way to bring them back to life. Some facilities, like Tecopa Hot Springs County Park in Death Valley, operate under whole-park concession agreements, a remnant of California's once-innovative past where the state leased some parks to private companies.

Under these lease agreements, recreation companies manage and maintain the parks. The government can set any quality and maintenance standards it desires and hold the private company accountable to them with a performance-based contract.

For example, in one privately operated U.S. Forest Service park in Florida, the contract requires workers to use canoes to move about the park and all maintenance must be done entirely with hand tools (e.g., no power tools, chain saws, etc.) so the park's environment isn't disturbed.

Some Californians oppose the sale and complete privatization of state parks. But under these public-private partnership leases, the state maintains complete ownership of the parks. Anything the state wants done at the park can be put into the contract, and if the private company fails to deliver it can be fired.

The companies collect park user fees to fund their operations, maintenance and labor costs. And they pay a set percentage of revenue back to the state as an annual lease payment. This offers the opportunity to minimize, or potentially eliminate, taxpayer subsidies to the parks, while keeping them open for public enjoyment.

The private sector is already a major part of California parks, providing lodging, retail, food services in parks across the state. According to Parks Department spokesman Roy Stearns, there are over 190 park service concession contracts in the state parks system. Private companies also provide park service concessions in the crown jewels of our national park system, including Yosemite National Park, Tahoe National Forest, Sierra National Forest, San Bernardino National Forest, and others.

Other states are actively moving to protect their parks through these types of lease agreements. Last year, Arizona asked private companies to present creative proposals on how they would enhance operations at state parks. And now the state is evaluating ideas submitted by six different companies.

The government has let California's treasured parks waste away long enough. The government doesn't have the money to keep all its parks open, let alone the additional $1 billion needed for repairs. Instead of closing parks, bureaucrats in Sacramento should recognize they've failed taxpayers and the parks. It is time to invite private companies to run and rehabilitate them.

Harris Kenny is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.

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  • ||

    OK wow this makes a lot of sense dude.

    www.privacy-online.us.tc

  • MS13||

    si! we fully support leasing the parks. the weed will be mucho profitable

  • Trespassers W||

    so that anyone interested in taking over its operations can contact the government and get a response.

    That reponse being, of course, "No."

  • affenkopf||

    Complete privatisation is a much better plan.

  • MNG||

    I usually think if you are going to privatize you should completely privatize. Government contracting usually works badly for the taxpayers but well for the contractors.

    However, I think the state should operate parks. The whole idea is to have these things available to all citizens regardless of ability to pay (or at a very subsidized rate), something that complete privatization is unlikely to do.

  • Just an Engineer||

    Did you even read the article? The whole point was that the state has been subsidizing them and now they're closing them down because they've run out of other people's money. Would you rather they be closed completely or privately operated. Those are the choices, government management of the state parks has failed.

  • ||

    [Government contracting usually works badly for the taxpayers but well for the contractors.]

    My experience has been contracting generally works much better for the public than government owned AND operated.

  • Kolohe||

    Under these lease agreements, recreation companies manage and maintain the parks. The government can set any quality and maintenance standards it desires and hold the private company accountable to them with a performance-based contract.

    Because that works out with awesomesause in the DOD. You got an example with the Park Service?

    For example, in one privately operated U.S. Forest Service park in Florida, the contract requires workers to use canoes to move about the park and all maintenance must be done entirely with hand tools (e.g., no power tools, chain saws, etc.) so the park's environment isn't disturbed.

    Oh you do, thanks. Is it just me, or is that requirement mega-(perhaps giga-)stupid? So like, a Dremmel is out? Use the right tool for the right job ferchristsakes!

  • ||

    People hear "privatization" and think all parks will turn into Disney World. If the government is not acting in the best interest of Earth, then no one is!

    If the state (people) own the land and want it managed in such-and-such a way, and the private company agrees to undertake management in exchange for profit, what is the problem?

    I understand your greater point about efficiency, but one of the reasons some people like to visit parks is to get away from the sound, sights, and smells of motor vehicles, chain saws, industrial complexes, and dare I say it: other people.

  • Kolohe||

    If something is a wilderness area, then it should be a wilderness area, and no human maintencance should be required anyway. I get restricting heavy equipment because they do leave a literal footprint on the environment, but if you going to do a job, anything you can carry on your back should be fair game, even if it makes noise. (as are rules limiting the # or which of the hours you can make noise, or the time of year)

    The larger point, as a said below, is that I'm incredibly leary of 'public-private partnerships'. You want to contract out some services? Fine. You want to sell the whole thing? Fine.

    But the sort of things described by Mr Kenny have been all the rage in the DOD, starting with the Clinton adminstration (and maybe earlier), and are now being looked at with a much more jaundiced eye. For one, you still need govies that have the competence to actively manage the contract. These have shown to be in short supply, and I have a feeling that would see in a few years the CA state park system not doing to much better in the oversight.

    The best thumbrule in my opinion for government contracting is that the government should not contract out what it is a monosopy buyer of. Otherwise, you're just setting yourself up for a crony capitalist to swoop in.

  • ||

    Crony capitalism seems to create the greatest problems when a business takes in all of or a significant portion of its revenue out of the government treasury. Here, though, it sounds like we are talking about a private company paying money TO the governemnt, and earning revenue from user fees rather than out of the Treasury. While the potential for crony capitalism certainly does exist, as long as a company is putting money into the Treasury rather than taking money out, I just don't find it as objectionable. The reliance on user fees I would think would encourage the company to do a good job. If the company started to screw up and people stayed away from the park, then the company would lose money.

  • ||

    BTW, I see less problems emerging with this than prisons because the users are free to choose to use the park, unlike prisoners.

  • ||

    re: wilderness areas, I agree. Since nature tends to manage itself quite well, there should be no need for human interference in the process. But I know many who would disagree.

    To your point about public-private partnerships, I agree. I was having this convo with my uncle a few days ago - he works for NASA as an environmental engineer and was bemoaning the problems gov't was having with a private contractor who money for T&M but failed to deliver product to spec. It is causing massive project delays due to litigation and the search for another contractor. Millions of dollars in waste could have been averted if either a private company wholly undertook the project, or government did. Lack of competent oversight always leads to problems, and government is no better (and is perhaps even worse) at providing it.

    Greens are averse to anything that provides a profit motive, be it parks management or recycling or energy sources. If someone stands to make a profit, surely there are nefarious intentions afoot. But I wonder if the aversion to profit is not partially due to the state's existence as management corporation for parks. If parks always and forever had been private but cheaply accessible to all, maybe the greenies would not feel that private corp management will lead to shutting out the disenfranchised who need/deserve these places so badly (note: their dogma, not mine).

  • ||

    Re Wilderness - I agree too.

    Much of the "work" taking place in state parks is make-work for public employees.

  • Edwin||

    or the maintenance of pathways and viewing areas, so people can, you know, actually see the nature, ya R-tards

  • Fiscal Meth||

    That's why I propose the formation the DBIW. The department of the best interests of the world.

  • Gray Ghost||

    It's been like that for awhile, especially for "wilderness areas." Google how fires are fought in the, e.g., Ventana Wilderness in California. Of course, what happens is that fire lines are created outside the wilderness boundaries using machinery and the fire left to burn itself out.

    Like you, Kolohe, I think it's pig-retarded, but what can you do?

  • Highway||

    Warren Meyer's company does this exact function. He has been advocating for more park concession and operations privatizing. Of course he's biased, but he points out that these parks, which are currently run as an expense for the government, become revenue sources because the park manager pays the government, and still turns a profit overall, generally while significantly upgrading the park facilities.

    Look at http://parkprivatization.com/

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Liberals are ok with the privatization of our currency, which is supposed to be Congress' job, "shall coin money and regulate the value thereof", but don't want to privatize the things the gov't has no business doing in the first place. How do they ever get elected?

  • OO||

    privatization of our currency? what do that mean?

  • sarcasmic||

    The Fed is not part of the government. It is a private bank. The fed issues our currency. Being that it is a private bank and it is issuing our currency, it follows that our currency has been privatized.

    It's basic logical deduction.

    Way too advanced for a retarded liberal like you.

  • MNG||

    Isn't the Board of Governors of the Fed appointed by the President? How is that possible with a private institution? Isn't 'quasi-public-private" more accurate?

  • sarcasmic||

    It is a private bank.

    It is not owned by the government, it is not run by the government (government appointees does not equal government employees), it is not even answerable to the government (recall Ron Paul's failed attempts to have it audited).

    It is a fully private institution and it issues our currency.
    Therefor our currency is privatized.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Yes, there is the appearance of gov't oversight, but the Fed still resists Ron Paul's attempts at an audit. I wonder why?

  • ||

    Yes, the Fed Res is private. It's a centralizing bank for its member commercial banks.

    It's most likely that captains of industry tell the sitting president who to appoint to the Board of Fed Res. To believe otherwise would be to be naive about politics.

    That said, private bank notes constituting a part of the currency -- the medium which circulates trade -- has a long history in the U.S.A.

    For decades leading up to 1913, most trade transaction happened through private bank notes as the medium of exchange. Little trade used specie money of gold and silver. This continued right until FDR swiped all the gold from every American's pocket and piggy bank.

    The all-too-often misunderstood argument that many have is that a centralizing cartel has been formed that supports a mechanism of continual issuance of centralized bank notes that can never get extinguished.

    Hence, through money accretion, the "Federal Reserve one dollar" can only ever lose buying power relative to products. Never can it gain buying power relative to goods through deflation of credit.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    I have a Federal Reserve Note "Silver Certificate" that certifies that there is on deposit in the Treasury of the USA One Dollar in silver payable to the bearer on demand. Series 1935A How in the F did FDR get away with making possession of our lawful currency illegal?

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Correction: it doesn't say Federal Reserve anywhere on it.

  • ||

    Morons like to fuck.

  • MNG||

    What is the objection to this? I'm no fan of this kind of privatization but if the other option is closing the parks wtf?

  • Kolohe||

    Because "public-private partnerships" have rarely borne the fruits of the 'win-win' with which they are advertised - except for the cronies involved on both sides of the equation.

  • MNG||

    I see that, but if your goal is to allow access to parks for citizens and the only other option is closing them it seems strange to choose the latter...

  • ||

    What MNG said....wait, WHAT?!

  • sarcasmic||

    I see that, but if your goal is to allow access to parks for citizens raise taxes and the only other option is closing them leasing parks it seems strange to choose the latter...

  • Otto||

    Additionally, what someone pointed out above - "privatizing state parks" means "denuding of all assets and creating a Disney-esque experience" to many on the left (and a few on the right).

    The idea that they could buy the park either eludes them, or the fact that they won't get free tax money to pay for their ecotopia enrages them. Or both.

  • Highway||

    From what I understand, it's less a traditional 'public-private partnership' and more of a 'direct contractor' or 'consultancy'. And while those certainly can go bad, they're generally much lower risk than the big, splashy development types of deals.

  • CE||

    MNG is making a strange amount of sense today.

  • Brett||

    An important thing to remember about parks is that a large portion of parks land is leased, much of it to logging, mining, oil and agricultural completely unrelated to running a park. This land should be sold, and parks should be reduced in size or closed unless they are a place currently visited by tourists. This is a surprisingly small portion of parks like Yellowstone.

  • MNG||

    I think the idea is that some parts of it are to be held for the future, kind of in trust, as the goal of the holding is not just recreation but conservation.

    Another problem is that when government sell off assetts boondoggles happen (see Russia).

  • ||

    OK, you guys are confusing National Parks with other federal lands. National Parks are administered by the National Park Service, a Department of the Interior agency. National Parks exist solely for recreation; there is no logging, mining, etc.

    The recreation facilities run by the US Forest service are not National Parks, but National Recreation Areas. US Forest Service is a Department of Agriculture agency. Most of the federal land administered by Department of Agriculture is not recreational and not open to the public - these lands are leased for logging, grazing and mining.

    Wilderness Area is a special designation for either a NP or NRA. Wilderness areas comprise a hugely small percent of the NP/NRA acreage.

  • Atanarjuat||

    For example, in one privately operated U.S. Forest Service park in Florida, the contract requires workers to use canoes to move about the park and all maintenance must be done entirely with hand tools (e.g., no power tools, chain saws, etc.) so the park's environment isn't disturbed.

    Anyone know what park this is?

  • Gray Ghost||

  • ||

    The state has let the parks deteriorate to the point that they now need $1 billion in repairs and maintenance, according to the California State Parks Foundation.

    I agree completely with the general point, but I assume this is a self-interested group with heavy incentives to overstate that number.

  • Just an Engineer||

    It would cost them $1 billion to repair and maintain but a private company would certainly find a way to do as good of a job for a lot less.

  • ||

    However, I think the state should operate parks. The whole idea is to have these things available to all citizens regardless of ability to pay (or at a very subsidized rate), something that complete privatization is unlikely to do.

    Once again, Rex the Wonder Dog extrapolates his emotions to the world at large, and advocates broad unfunded government programs which will make him feel magnanimous.

  • ||

    Isn't the Board of Governors of the Fed appointed by the President? How is that possible with a private institution?

    That light! It hurts my eyes!

  • Really?||

    Sell the parks. Why should it be a function of government to hold open areas of land for people's enjoyment?

  • ||

    A few years ago, NJ closed some state parks during a budget "crises". I had to walk around the gate instead of through it to get on my hiking trails. Very traumatic.

    The nice part, I didn't have to worry about the Park Rangers hassling me since they were all furloughed.

  • Hooha||

    +1

    This is what I've been looking for. In this whole thread, yours is the first post to hint at what, exatly, a 'closed' park is.

    If this is it, I say "close" them all.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    I'm not going to read this shit. Fuck public-private. If you want to privatize something, it should be sold free and clear.

  • Realist||

    "Don't Close State Parks, Lease Them."
    Excellent idea.

  • CE||

    Or just sell them to the highest bidder and discover what their prime economic use really is.

  • ||

    I think it's a fine idea to contract out park management with respect to such services as providing tours of historic buildings and so on. But I don't like having to pay an entrance fee just to go for a walk or have a picnic on public land, whether that fee goes to the state or to a lessee. I don't like the idea of giving private parties the right to exclude people from public land any more than I like the state excluding people.

    Better idea: stop providing services such as trash collection at state parks. Immunize the state from liability if people get hurt there. Leave the gates open, and stay in communication with the local "friends of Acme State Park" group to work on trail maintenance and so on.

    There is no reason that closing, say, Twin Lakes State Park should require actually keeping people off the beach. It could just mean that the State is no longer picking up the trash, and people are expected to pack out their own.

    The good news is that this might just be how the State handles park closures.
    http://www.mercurynews.com/bre.....ck_check=1

  • Tony||

    Why not sell off whole columns of ocean and atmosphere too? The one thing that market forces truly deliver for private businesses in competition is increasingly innovative ways to monetize things for the sake of their own profit. Business will forever be attempting to expand into spheres that were previously off-limits (for perfectly good reasons), and they have an obedient little army of ass kissers slapping a bumper sticker that says "freedom" on each and every one of their profit-seeking actions.

    Do we get an explanation of exactly how private contracting will be cheaper for individuals (taxpayers)? It never has been before. Charging a user fee big enough to cover the costs alleged here would seem to defeat the purpose of a public park.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    People already do have legitimate exclusive ownership claims of portions of ocean or airspace.

  • Edwin||

    how the fuck can you own the ocean or the atmosphere, dumbass?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    By consistently using a portion of the ocean, you gain rights that exclude others from making the same use in the same area. Fisherman own fishing rights, mineral companies own the portion they are occupying at least until they no longer occupy it, people own rights to shipwrecks and the ocean floor, and so forth. Navigable water is effectively an easement for transportation. Ocean can be divided the same way that land is. It is especially easy now to define the boundaries with GPS.

  • Edwin||

    complete nonsense. Even with GPS there'd be a huge buffer zone when trying to implement those boundaries visually. Not to mention not every ship is going to have GPS. And actually effectively policing such "property rights" qwould be massively expensive.

    Admit it, what you're saying is ridiculous and silly.

  • Edwin||

    How can the government sell that which it doesn't own? A lot of public parks are owned by the public, not the state, that is they were literally deeded by the previous owner to the public ("dedicated" is the verb usually used). That is, every member of the public is an onwer and has the right to use enjoy the land as long as it doesn't adversely affect tyhe enjoyment of others.

    If I own land, then it means I can give it to people. And if I can give it to people, I can give it to everybody. Basic property rights. And you guys want that now-public land "sold". Sounds like theft to me. Now who supports theft and violates property rights?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Deeds are not 100% compatible with property rights. What if "everybody" does not care that they "own" it? The property is free to be homesteaded.

  • Edwin||

    I can barely even understand what you're trying to say

    If I can own property then it follows that I can give it away to everybody with deed restrictions that no one interfere with another's use plus a few basic codes of conduct.

    There's a park out there, and every one in town uses it and enjoys it. We all own it in common, we can all use it, and we do and we enjoy it. If you come in and "privatize" it and make it so that ONE guy can now build a house there or restrict people from entering, you've stolen from me haven't you? You took something that I and everyone in town was able to enjoy for free and you took it away. That would be fuckin' bullshit.
    But the fact of the matter is that bullshit is libertarianism, and it's why few people are actually libertarians, and why it's a disgusting philosophy.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Deed restrictions are common property law, not natural property law. Property only lasts as long as someone is claiming its ownership. It is possible for public property to exist, but if someone were to occupy park space for a period of time and no one did anything about it, that person's right should supersede the stupid fucking deed restrictions.

  • Edwin||

    so you do support theft? You want to take what is everyone's property and make it just one person's sole property.

  • Edwin||

    fees to enter a park are bullshit but limited monetization through conession stands, amusement rides/entertainment are the tits. I was amazed when I found out about Van Saun park here in NJ in River Edge/Paramus. There's a zoo, a carousel, horse rides, a large train track thingy for the kids, and one or two pretzel or ice cream vendors, but the park is still quiet even when it's busy. It's awesome.

  • ABC||

    Don't lease them, sell them. Let Greenpeace and the Sierra Club raise the money to buy them and manage them.

  • nike shox||

    is good

  • قبلة الوداع||

    ThaNk U

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