Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Iowa and Nebraska, Midwest states known for their picturesque vistas, are straining to make money for their state parks go as far as it can, the Omaha World Herald reports.
Nebraska is leaving job vacancies open, raising entrance fees and even handing control of some parks over to local authorities, according to the newspaper. Iowa has also avoided filling open positions, hired fewer seasonal workers and reduced maintenance.
Parks have become a quick and easy target for savings as states have struggled with depleted revenue and increased spending in other areas since the economic downturn. As the New York Times reported last summer, California closed 70 of its 278 state parks as part of an effort to close its ballooning budget shortfall. Washington, one of the few states, like Iowa, that didn't charge fees for entrance, began doing so in July, according to the Times.
Nebraska has raised its price for park entry permits for 2012, according to the World Herald, which is expected to bring in about $800,000. A $6.5 million injection from the state general fund, which has been flat since 2002, covers another chunk of the park bureau's $23.2 million budget.
Perhaps the most inventive move so far has been transferring the oversight of state parks to local communities. By the end of its next legislative session, the Nebraska Legislature is expected to hand over seven state parks -- but the savings will be minimal, according to the newspaper: about $40,000 annually.
Iowa has managed to avoid charging entry fees, according to the World Herald, but other shortcuts have been necessary. A total of 21 positions in the state bureau remain open, and the number of seasonal workers hired annually has nearly dropped in half from 325 to 176. And that means that maintenance at some of the less-visited parks has dwindled, the newspaper reports.