In response to the Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee recommendations to slash the Utah State Parks budget by $299,700, the Board of Utah's State Parks and Recreation reports the cuts will force closure of several state parks.
If this budget recommendation is finalized, the reduction in operational funding will become effective during the 2007 fiscal year, forcing closure of parks during fiscal year 2006. The subcommittee has failed to acknowledge increasing operational and utility costs, and the reality that funding that is not ongoing will result in park closures.
Since 2002, Utah State Parks has suffered a 19 percent decrease in general fund appropriations. Budget cuts to Utah State Parks and Recreation are believed greater than most of the other state agencies. The budget reductions are ironic because for each dollar of state general fund invested in Utah State Parks, the agency returns $18 in economic benefit totaling $170 million for Utah's citizens. Proposed budget cuts will result in a $5.4 million negative impact to Utah's economy.
In response to four years of budget cuts, Utah State Parks has eliminated 30 positions, maximized operational efficiency, increased fees, discontinued free park access for seniors, and closed or transferred three state parks. Vision 2010, a strategic plan for the agency, mandated by the legislature, was recently completed. Vision 2010 defined specific objectives to improve the park system for Utah's growing population. Closure of additional state parks was not envisioned in this planning document, especially following closures just two years ago.
The Board of Utah State Parks supports Governor Huntsman's commitment to economic development and tourism. Governors Walker and Huntsman recognized the value of state parks to the citizens, visitors, and communities of Utah, and supported the original budget request proposed by the agency. The Board of Utah State Parks questions why an important contributor to Utah's economy, particularly local rural economies, should suffer deep budget cuts during a year of budget surplus. Board members feel some legislators, including members of its own appropriations subcommittee, undervalue the state park system.
"It is sobering to consider the impacts of park closures on park employees, families, park visitors, and the surrounding rural economies," said Board Chair Jeff Packer. He added "The Utah State Parks and Recreation system is managed by a team of talented, dedicated, and loyal employees."
While the Utah State Parks Board recognizes budget recommendations are not yet final, if the current course of budget cuts is not reversed, several parks will close. The following is a list of parks to be evaluated for closure at an upcoming April board meeting:
Parks to be evaluated for closure: Camp Floyd/Stagecoach Inn State Park and Museum, $91,700, Utah County; East Canyon State Park, $82,500, Morgan County; Green River State Park, Green River Golf Course, Goblin Valley State Park (cluster park), $260,800, Emery County; Huntington State Park, Scofield State Park, Millsite State Park (cluster park), $190,300, Emery and Carbon counties; Hyrum State Park, $70,100, Cache County; Iron Mission State Park Museum/Old Iron Town, $188,400, Iron County; Otter Creek State Park, $38,100, Piute County; Piute State Park, $11,900, Piute County; Quail Creek State Park, $110,300, Washington County; and Starvation State Park, $44,500, Duchesne County.
The Board of Utah State Parks and Recreation asks citizens to contact their legislators, asking them to restore Governor Huntsman's budget request and protect Utah State Parks.
State Senator Mike Dmitrich who represents Carbon and Emery counties said he sits on the executive appropriations committee and the parks closures did not receive a very good reception. He does not think any parks will close, nor should they close with the economy on the uprise.