CONY Urges Privatizing State Park Operations

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February 25, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY president/CEO

Editor's Note: On Jan. 15, Donald G. Bennet Jr., president and CEO of the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), testified before the New York General Assembly's Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Assembly and the Standing Committee on Oversight, Analysis and Investigation. His testimony focused on the current state of the campground industry in the Empire State.

Highlights from Bennett's testimony are appearing in a three-part series on The series started on Feb. 22. Click here to read that first installlment.

Part 2 appears below.

First of all I have to say that in the private campground sector we need public parks. Our customers from near and far want to spend time in many of our famous parks and historic sites.

1) With the economy as it is currently, many more families have to find affordable ways to spend leisure time. Thus the increase in the use of park facilities.

2) Public parks are a great driver of tourism and a natural draw for visitors far and wide to visit the parks.

3) Richard Louve’s book “ The Last Child in the Woods” and many studies peg the average 6th grader in this country spending approximately 6-8 hours per day in front of some type of screen. Childhood obesity among American children has become an epidemic problem. If this trend continues, the life expectancy among children will begin a downward trend for the first time in many decades. We must work to promote the “getting kids outdoors” or parks will over time be viewed as less and less important and usage will decline. Social Media is actually Anti-Social media. With Gov. Cuomo’s initiative for extended school hours and possible extended school year, please take heed as children are not able to experience the outdoors. What will this plan do to tourism in New York State? What will this plan do for the labor shortages at the agriculture jobs as well as the many tourism jobs that these students provide to the sector? What valuable training in hospitality that these students learn? Not all learning in life needs to be in a classroom.

4) Several advantages that state run campgrounds have over private is that insurance and real estate taxes are not expenses of state-run campgrounds. Many other expenses are shared via park police, etc. I know many organizations have been formed to promote the idea of garnering additional taxpayer funding for the development and improvement of state parks and historic sites. We must find funding for parks from users of parks, it’s only fair. The state campgrounds even have a built in Camper Assistance Program trading labor for campsite usage. The private sector used to try this calling them workcampers however the workers' compensation and ny unemployment insurance carriers put a stop to it on the private sector end. How does the state get away with this?

5) I feel that the state campground facilities and many other areas golf courses, ski resorts, resorts operations should be privatized. This concept would let the office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation focus on the Day Use parks for the benefit of our New York residents and out of state visitors. Privatization would provide the ability for the vendor to implement and finance many of the upgrades that the users of the facilities seek rather than the taxpayers as a whole. By privatizing the state businesses, it would remove much of the unfair competition aspect that currently exists.

6) I also feel that many of the departments should be realigned. The Department of Environmental Conservation operates approximately 6,000 campsites and the Office of Parks and Recreation operates approximately 8,700 campsites. Why not consolidate the operations? We also have oversight and regulatory irregularities. The Department of Environmental Conservation has oversight of regulations for many aspects of privately owned campgrounds, waste water systems, flood plain regulations while in direct competition? The same can be said for the Office of Parks and Historic Sites. Regulations exist in case a private campground is on a historic site. Oversight and regulations come into play while the department is in direct competition. Why not realign and let one agency oversee the campground operations while the other agency houses the regulatory side? This would ease the appearance of the direct conflict of interest that appears. Or why not lease out the state campground operations to a concessionaire(s)?

3) Regulations

a. Privately owned campgrounds face a burdensome regulatory environment.

b. Department of Health codes lead the way but we have a rapidly changing environment.

c. Don’t move firewood for fear of moving invasive species has been on the forefront the past few years.

d. We now face the prospect of bed bugs in rental cabin units.

e. DEC/FEMA with Flood Plain enforcement,

f. Historic Site regulation for new parks, if the park is in a historic area or near a body of water.

g. Adirondack Park the APA regulations, Ag and Markets for campground store operations,

h. Department of State and local for CODE issues.

i. ADA access for the disabled regulations

j. and the list goes on and on.

TUESDAY: Tourism promotion confusing

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