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Reason Foundation

Private Sector Can Rescue State Parks Headed for Closure

Leonard Gilroy
February 24, 2010, 4:24pm

Deficit-challenged states that are closing state parks under budget pressure should consider a powerful alternative that can ensure that parks stay open—leasing parks to private sector operators.

Glenn Beck did a nice job teeing up this discussion in a segment yesterday (watch here or click below) with Warren Meyer, CEO of Recreation Resource Management, a private recreation management company that operates over 150 parks for federal, state and local authorities (including the U.S. Forest Service and Tennessee Valley Authority). Mr. Meyer's company—and other peers, according to this Verde Independent article last weekend—are offering to take over Arizona state parks currently planned to be shuttered amid budget cuts. In other words, the private sector is offering to rescue state parks that would otherwise close.

As Beck points out, the choice being offered here is a no-brainer: we can (a) close state parks, or (b) keep them open at no cost to the state by leasing them to private concessionaires. In my mind, if the National Park Service can embrace the private sector and concession out lots of pieces of national parks—as it already does with most of its "crown jewels" like Arizona's own Grand Canyon—then letting these same types of companies run state parks is hardly a stretch.

It's probably helpful to drill down into a few other key points:

Perhaps the most important benefit of the concession model lies in the concept of risk transfer—the ability to transfer important and costly risks away from taxpayers and to a concessionaire. Some of those risks include:

It's for all of these reasons that parks concessions seem like a no-brainer for cash-strapped states to consider as a viable and positive alternative to budget cuts, closures, tax hikes and other bad policy choices states are otherwise confronting. Even if policymakers believe that it is a core function of government to provide public recreation facilities, it does not then follow that government has to be the one to run those facilities. If a private concessionaire offers to keep parks open that would otherwise just be shut down, taking on costs and risks that taxpayers would otherwise bear, why would a responsible policymaker say no?

UPDATE: See related thoughts on parks from Goldwater Institute economist Byron Schlomach here and here.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform

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