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Idaho Eyes State Park Sponsors to Fund Shortfall

February 2, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Idaho is the latest state seeking out corporate sponsorships to help cover funding losses for its cash-strapped parks system, The Associated Press reported.

For those who might cringe at the prospect of “Hell’s Gate State Park brought to you by Coca Cola,” State Parks and Recreation chief Nancy Merrill assures it won’t come to that.

But there may be a playground or two sponsored by Juicy Juice. And don’t be surprised if you come upon a state parks worker decked out in North Face, or if you see a dog park sponsored by Purina, or a tree-planting activity brought to you by Coca-Cola Co.’s premium juice brand, Odwalla.

While other states have considered adding corporate sponsors for advertising in the face of budget woes, nothing major has come of the proposals, in part because of strong opposition from environmental advocates.

Merrill assured lawmakers Tuesday (Feb. 1) that the sponsorships would be subtle and help plug holes in the Idaho park system’s budget, which is down $4 million this year. That funding would not be restored in the upcoming fiscal year, under the governor’s budget recommendation.

The agency has so far reduced its work force by 15% and drained more than $1 million in reserves to help cover the loss. The department has also relied on more than $2 million in fees charged to RV campers in state parks — money that would normally go toward projects — to fill in the budget hole.

Corporate sponsorships could bring in another $10,000 to $300,000 over the next five years, Merrill said. The parks department has already started talking with private companies that could become potential sponsors of park services.

“They are interested in Idaho, and we’re interested in talking to them,” Merrill said.

The board that governs Idaho Parks and Recreation is expected to consider proposed guidelines on how the state would pursue the sponsorships at a meeting next week in Boise. The agency will move quickly to secure so-called underwriters for park services if the guidelines are approved, Merrill said.

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