Paper Grades Mass. State Campgrounds
Rickety picnic tables, rutted roads, bathrooms that were less than clean.
Those were a few of the complaints about Massachusetts’ state campgrounds from teams of Patriot Ledger staffers who spent a night at Nickerson, Wompatuck and Myles Standish campgrounds on July 21, according to the Quincy, Mass., newspaper.
State officials say dwindling resources are to blame, and that steps are being taken to improve things.
The state collected $20 million in camping and other park fees last year, but only $6 million of that went to the agency that keeps those parks in shape. The result is a $1.6 billion backlog of improvements that need to be done.
Most camper complaints about state campgrounds, which are similar to those voiced by the Patriot Ledger teams, are directly related to maintenance projects, said Margot Mays, campground program manager for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees state parks.
Several bills have been filed to improve state parks, and a new Friends of Myles Standish State Forest group was organized in the spring to work with the state agency to get things done.
“In general, our sense is the Legislature has gotten the message of the need to reinvest in all of the state’s public parks and forests,” said Frank Gorke, executive director of the Conservation and Recreation Campaign, an advocacy group dedicated to the state’s public lands.
In the most recent budget cycle, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which oversees state parks and recreation areas, received an additional $8 million – though, spokeswoman Wendy Fox said, it is equivalent to nearly level funding with $7 million worth of earmarked projects.
The DCR charges $12 per night for state residents to camp, and $15 per night at four coastal campgrounds. New Hampshire charges $21 to $47 per night depending on whether there are water and electric hook-ups, and Vermont’s fees are $14 to $16 for a basic site.
A $9.25 fee is also charged to make a reservation. That money goes to ReserveAmerica, the company that handles reservations.
State Rep. Michael Rush, D-Brookline, convened the legislative parks caucus for the first time in December after his own experiences using parks in his district. He noticed things that needed fixing in those parks and called the state agency to let them know, and waited months to see if anything got done.
About 40 members of the caucus recently met with incoming DCR Commissioner Rick Sullivan to find out more about his plans for the bedraggled agency.
“I for one am willing to give this commissioner the benefit of the doubt,” Rush said. “His whole philosophy is getting things done. We can be his best ally or his worst critic.”