Paying for Parks
New Hampshire’s State Parks System is requesting over $50 million for capital improvements through 2017. Developed in conjunction with the State Department of Resources and Economic Development, the proposal to tap state funding is only one strategy being pursued to meet the system’s needs in coming years: courting corporate sponsorship, creating new vanity license plates and mobilizing “friends groups” for various maintenance responsibilities are among the options on the table.
In theory, New Hampshire has the country’s only state park system that is entirely self-funded through user fees and other sources like retail sales. In practice, the system has struggled to provide for itself since the self-funded model was instituted in 1991.
Ted Austin, Director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, said in his agency’s current ten-year plan, “(W)e have rarely climbed out of debt. Because first dollars ‘earned’ from income each year go to offset the carry-forward loss, this has become a self-perpetuating cycle.”
Hence, the capital budget request, of which $11.7 million would come from the 2012-2013 budget cycle. This includes $3 million for seawall repair at Hampton Beach and $1.27 million for redevelopment work at Greenfield State Park. More than $21.3 million is requested from fiscal years 2014-2015, and another $18.5 million from the following two years.
The majority of the money—$28 million total—would go to repairs and maintenance that has been deferred over the years due to chronic underfunding. Revenue sources like license plates and cost-saving measures like cultivating a volunteer corps are all attempts to address the system’s challenges long-term. Regarding corporate sponsorship, a leasing partnership with Eastern Mountain Sports is in process.
The capital request will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of a legislative subcommittee on Friday. Chaired by Sen. Robert Odell (R-Lempster), the group will also take up two related bills from last year: House Bill 218 and Senate Bill 414 make various changes to how park system funds are accessed and to the Mount Washington commission, respectively.
The State Park System Advisory Committee, which has generated these ideas and developed the request for funding, has also recommended that the Legislature re-think the self-funded model. The committee was established in 2007 to develop a strategic plan and be an advocate for the park system. Several meetings of the council or its sub-committees are coming up, listed below.
In other state park matters, we can expect to see more from two of last year’s bills relating to banning or limiting smoking at state beaches and parks. House Bills 1186 and 1194 were recommended for further legislative action after an interim study.
>> The Legislative Subcommittee of the State Park System Advisory Committee will meet in Room 305 Legislative Office Building on Friday, Nov. 12, at 1 p.m.
>> The Friends Subcommittee of the State Park System Advisory Committee will meet at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 1 p.m.
>> The State Park System Advisory Committee will meet at the Department of Resources and Economic Development in Concord on Thursday, Dec, 2, at 9:30 a.m.
This Daily Update was written by Michael McCord with contributions from Hilary Niles.