Massachusetts State Parks Near 'Tipping Point'

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May 3, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor's Note: The following item comes from The Boston Globe's Environmental Blog.

Years of chronic disinvestment in Massachusetts’ parks and recreation agency are threatening to push it to a tipping point that the Massachusetts Stewardship Council — established by the Legislature to oversee several Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) activities — says could bring widespread pool, park, and other closings.

The council, chaired by Henry Lee, director of the Harvard Belfer Center’s Environment and Natural Resources Program, said in a letter to Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo that the administration’s budget proposal “will place both the services provided by the agency and its assets in serious jeopardy.’’

The letter said that while every agency faces budget cuts, the effect is particularly severe at DCR because it has had its budget slashed by more than 30% over the past two fiscal years.

The council says the DCR will need at least $75 million in fiscal 2012 to avoid serious and visible shutdowns and service reductions. The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick would give the DCR $71.4 million. Since the administration released its budget plan, the House has released its own; it proposes the DCR budget be set even lower, at $69.8 million.

Lee’s letter makes the point that once parks are closed, the cost of reopening them will be “significantly more than the money that was saved by closing them.’’

The council makes two immediate suggestions:

  • Allow DCR to keep 80% of any money it takes in, returning 20% to the treasury — a move that would give it an additional $2.7 million annually. Currently, it keeps just over 60%.
  • Fully fund the cost of the State House rangers. Lee said the DCR “continues to be asked to take on responsibilities for which budgeted funds are insufficient.’’ Staffing levels for State House rangers are determined by the Legislature, but the dollar amount designated for it falls short by $700,000.

“As a result, DCR must take that amount from its parks account to cover the shortfall, further eroding the sustainability of services the agency provides to the public,’’ the letter said.

Richard K. Sullivan, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said more people are using state parks and services because of the down economy, so it makes sense to fund them adequately.

“Realistically, these are tough budget times … but I do think there needs to be a look at the cuts,’’ because there was a 30% increase in visitors to state parks, beaches, and campgrounds in 2010, he said.

Whitney Hatch, finance committee chairman of the Stewardship Council, said the DCR’s 2012 budget would be difficult under the administration’s plan, but with the House plan “it is safe to assume that DCR will have to close more parks and pools than it is now considering.’’

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