Editorial: States Running Corps Campgrounds
Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in the Bismarck (N.D.) Tribune.
North Dakotans get good use out of parks and campgrounds in the state. On a summer weekend, many of these outdoor recreation facilities are well used for fishing, water sports, hiking, bike riding, horseback riding and just being out of doors.
Because of the state’s strong financial position, state parks are in good shape and their future looks solid.
The federal government, on the other hand, has money problems, and those federal employees who manage the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ campgrounds in North Dakota can see a scenario in which these campgrounds, mostly around Lake Sakakawea, are closed in future years. That’s what happened elsewhere.
The corps has been kind enough to give the state the option of running those federal campgrounds.
It’s an interesting proposition.
State parks director Mark Zimmerman is right to express cautious interest. He wants operations numbers from the corps for those campgrounds. He’s asking the right kinds of questions.
The economic model for state parks is to use revenue from a park to pay for its operation, and then the state’s general funds picks up the wage-and-benefit costs for employees. Would the same thing work for corps campgrounds? What would it do to the overall parks and recreation budget? Do the use numbers for the corps campground support anecdotal evidence of use by North Dakotans?
The corps will open and operate its campgrounds this summer. It gives the state time to figure out what to do and if the state can afford it.
Although the state has shown a budget surplus in recent years, it doesn’t mean the Legislature and state agencies have a blank check. Look at how difficult it has been for lawmakers to craft of budget for the next biennium. The Legislature is hours and days away from running out of time, and there’s no clear reading what the bottom line will look like when sine die does comes.
The money is a key part of this proposal. But so, too, is North Dakotans’ love for the outdoors. Parks and campgrounds are something that a majority of the state’s residents make use of up. Being out of doors keeps us physically and mentally healthy. That’s especially important after a very long winter.
Run the numbers. See if they work. Talk to people. See what they think. Keep an open mind.