Md. Lawmakers Eye State Park Aid
Maryland State Parks are experiencing crumbling infrastructure, shuttered visitors’ centers and rising crime after recent funding cuts, but could become one of the top systems in the country with just a small funding increase, according to Southern Maryland Online.
That was the conclusion of a report to lawmakers last week by the Department of Natural Resources, which outlined a plan to get Maryland’s “once great state parks system” back to its former status as a national model, said Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin.
The report called for increasing the park system’s operating budget to $51 million over the next four years from a current budget just below $35 million. Support for state parks fell by about 50% from 2002 to 2006, forcing the parks to rely more and more on revenue from rising entrance fees to cover costs.
While financial support was falling, park popularity was rising. Attendance at Maryland’s 49 state parks is at an all-time high of almost 12 million visitors a year, compared to 8 million in 1990.
But the number of park staff has declined steadily. There are now 55,000 visitors for each full-time park staff member, compared with about 35,000 in 2000. In many parks, unpaid volunteers have stepped in to keep services available.
“Volunteers are running our state parks, something they didn’t bargain for when they started years ago,” Griffin told the House Environmental Matters Committee on Nov. 7.
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s revenue package, which the General Assembly is now reviewing, proposes $5 million in additional state park funding.
A report by the Maryland Office of Tourism said that visitors to state park campgrounds spent more than $100 million in Maryland in 2004.