Utah May Turn to KOA to Help Run its State Parks
Utah lawmakers looking to balance the state parks' budget heard proposals ranging from a big-game hunt on Antelope Island to letting Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) run some parks, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The park system is already looking at a cut of at least $615,000 from its $31.7 million budget, and more could be coming. The director of the parks system, Mary Tullius, said she worries what additional cuts could mean.
"We have been doing more with less. Now we're doing less with less," she said.
To help make ends meet, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, proposed expanding the big-game hunt on Antelope Island. He said that granting two tags for deer and two for bighorn sheep could bring in as much as $500,000 per year from eager hunters.
There is already some bison hunting allowed on the island, according to the division, but the state has not permitted other hunts.
But Noel's proposal was not nearly as sweeping as the changes pitched by Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who recommended contracting with private businesses to run the state parks.
"We got a lot of wonderful parks. We got a lot of parks that lose money, too," he said. "I don't think there's any losers in this."
Buttars hoped to realize $35 million in savings from the effort, although just $11.6 million of the state parks budget comes directly from taxpayers — the rest comes from fees and a portion of boating and off-highway vehicle registrations.
Tullius said privatizing the state parks may require returning control of some lakes over to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
And 19 parks include property purchased with federal funds, so the state might have to repay the federal government.
Buttars said that explanation strengthened his resolve.
"We're a slave to the federal government, and I'm sick of it," Buttars said. "Let's figure out a way to start getting out from under their thumb. If this state's ever going to stand up on its own, we need to quit taking federal funds."
Woodall's Campground Management contacted KOA officials in Bilings, Mont., regarding such a proposal. KOA responded with the following statement: "The Kampgrounds of America corporate offices in Billings has not been contacted by anyone with state government in Utah regarding such a proposal,” said Mike Gast, vice president of communications for KOA Inc.