Costs to maintain state parks could skyrocket by billions

Milky Way Over Yurt at Dead Horse Point State Park.jpg
Moab.{ }(File photo: KUTV)

National parks get the fame, state parks get the visitors.

How many visitors? 807 million people in 2017, according to a story in Gizmodo's Earther. That's nearly 2.5 times more than national parks saw in the same year (2017).

Granted there are nearly 8,300 state parks in the U.S., while national parks near closer to 60.

A new study done, in part, by Utah State University (USU) looked at the effect of climate change on state parks, and how much it will cost to maintain state parks until 2050.

In 30 years, state park operating costs could jump by as much as 61%, as increased heat brings more people outdoors for a longer period of time, the story says.

In a story by Brian Kahn in Earther, director of Utah's Institute for Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Jordan Smith says one reason why state parks get more visitors than national parks is people are more likely to visit state parks on the weekend while visiting national parks just once a year.

Smith continues:

They’re much more regional and local and provide a huge benefit of quality of life to Americans.”

Smith and his team at USU and NC State University used the following datasets concerning the nearly 8,300 state parks in the country to come to their results:

  • Visitation
  • Operating costs
  • Revenue

So what drove up costs the most?

More visitors.

State park visitation has risen, on average, by 6.6% each year since 1984.

That yearly 6.6% increase is the biggest culprit of what's driving up costs at state parks nationwide, according to the study and Kahn.

"Overall, the 34 years of record-keeping show that for every percent increase in mean annual temperature, yearly park operating costs rise by $11.51 per acre," Kahn said. "Using this relationship, the researchers then projected how costs could change under different climate scenarios out to 2050. Those scenarios ranged from one in which emissions fall dramatically to one in which the world goes wild ramping up the use of dirty fossil fuels, something we’re currently doing."

In their numbers, the USU researchers did not project increases in visitors and used the 2017 number each year until 2050.

That number is very unlikely to decrease any time soon, so the study's numbers could be low, meaning numbers could be even higher.

The study done by USU researchers suggests a few things to mitigate costs in the next 30 years.

First, the study says state legislatures need to raise their budgets for state parks. Currently, state parks get a total of 0.16% of state budgets, on average.

Another option is to raise taxes on outdoor gear to fund state parks, similar to taxing guns to pay for conservation programs, etc.

Peak pricing during the busiest times could defray costs, Smith told Kahn.

Another option?

Raise costs across the board.


Information in the story is from a report in Earther and a study in the National Academy of Sciences.

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