Recent data reveals that parks and recreation is far from recession-proof. Park, pricing, and visitation numbers are all being impacted, both positively and negatively, by the state of the economy.
The good news is that more people are taking advantage of the affordable rest and relaxation opportunities the parks provide. According to the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD), the number of visitors last year rose 2.4% — to 747.9 million — from 2007. The increase, in large part, has to do with Americans' pinched pockets.
“The assumption is that, with the high gas prices, people are staying home,” says Executive Director Philip McKnelly. Vacations are taking place in nearby, publicly subsidized recreational locales rather than out of town.
But operating expenses are up. Park managers spent $65 million more last year than in 2007. The same issue — the cost of fuel — that's driving up visitor numbers is driving up the cost of maintenance.
And the number of facilities is going down. From 2006 to 2008, 77 parks and recreation areas closed as balanced-budget requirements forced many states to divest themselves of parks and recreation departments. New Hampshire, for example, is developing a master plan that would close parks that don't address the park system's mission.
Despite the economic climate, residents are far more concerned with the preservation of natural resources than dollars and cents. In several states, proposed cutbacks have received significant backlash.
Last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed closing 48 state parks but later dropped the plan. This year, the governor's proposed budget cuts would eliminate 80% of parks to help alleviate the state's $26 billion deficit.
Similar situations have emerged in New Jersey and Illinois, where former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich recommended closing 11 parks as part of his proposed budget cuts. However, new Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is working to reverse the closures. So far, seven parks have been reopened and 12 full-time positions restored.