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Newspaper Sides with State Parks Against Private Campgrounds

February 3, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in the Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. Click here to read an earlier news story on this issue.

By introducing legislation that would require Virginia state parks to augment their fees and limit their facilities, the General Assembly has chosen to place itself in the middle of a family feud among private campground owners.

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sens. Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania and Tom Garrett of Louisa, would require Virginia state parks to set their fees at or above those of nearby privately owned campgrounds. It would also limit the development of new state park campsites and amenity offerings. Louisa Republican Delegate Peter Farrell has filed a House version of the bill.

The general reaction is this: What are these lawmakers thinking about? State parks are something Virginia does quite well, supplying it an impressive bang for the taxpayer buck. For a $17 million annual investment, the parks generate an estimated $175 million in economic activity for their surrounding communities. It is one of Virginia’s fun facts that Virginia ranks generally among the bottom three states in park funding, but enjoys perennial top awards for its parks and facilities.

The legislation’s goal, for business-friendly Virginia, is to level the playing field among state and private campsite providers, so that the taxpayer-supported state parks don’t undercut private, for-profit campgrounds.

But there are numerous circumstances that suggest this is a solution looking for a problem. For example:

The Virginia Campground Association, which represents the private campground owners, is on record against the legislation, preferring to pursue a refreshing air of cooperation between state and private operations. The legislation is the result of complaints by 14 campground owners. There are 65 members in the VCA.

There are more than 10,000 campsites owned by VCA members, plus thousands of other private campsites run by non-VCA members. Virginia state parks offer 1,800 campsites, and they are often filled to capacity well in advance. State parks officials routinely provide information about nearby private campgrounds to callers when state park sites are booked.

Virginia state park campsite fees are already among the nation’s highest, a reflection of the lack of state funding and a common source of complaint among survey responders who note the lower fees in neighboring states.

In many cases, rates for state park sites and private sites are very competitive. At Lake Anna State Park, for example, a site with water and electricity costs $32 a night. At the private Christopher Run Campground on Lake Anna, a site with water and electricity costs $33. Private campgrounds with significantly higher rates often offer their customers amenities such as cable and Wi-Fi that state parks don’t. The legislation could result in allowing the private campgrounds — freed from the yoke of competition — to raise their rates, forcing increases in state park fees.

The whole idea behind Virginia’s constitutionally mandated state parks is to provide spaces for people to enjoy the state’s magnificent natural settings. The commonwealth has been committed to doing that at the most reasonable price it can. Is that something Virginia lawmakers are truly prepared to jeopardize? Perish the thought, and the bills.

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