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Editorial: Park Closures Needed More Warning

September 6, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in The Independent, the daily newspaper serving Grand Island, Neb., and surrounding areas.

Nebraska Game and Parks is closing 29 state parks early this fall in order to free staff to do deferred maintenance projects.

This move, announced last week by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, is understandable, but the timing is unfair to Nebraskans who use the parks.

Of the 29 closings, 24 are state recreation areas and five are historical parks. Those being closed in Central Nebraska include the North Loup and War Axe recreation areas and the Fort Hartsuff Historical Park. The parks will be closed from Sept. 16 to May 1.

The commission’s game plan is to use the staff from these closed parks to address some of the $30 million of deferred maintenance projects at parks throughout the state.

While it’s good to address the maintenance needs and using parks staff is cost efficient, the timing seems all wrong.

Many Nebraskans paid $25 for a year-long permit to enter the state parks and recreation areas. Now, to find out with four months of the year left that some areas are closed isn’t right.

Some may have been planning fall excursions to these sites. Others may not have bought permits if they had known these sites were going to be closed during the pleasant fall months. September and October can have some of the nicest weather of the year.

A much better approach would have been to have planned these closures and announced that they were going to happen at the beginning of the year. That way people buying permits would have been able to take the early closings into consideration.

To be fair, the 29 sites slated for early closing are some of the least visited state parks. That’s why they were selected, which makes a lot of sense.

But to someone planning an October visit to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City or to the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area in North Platte to see the autumn colors, it’s a huge disappointment.

Nebraska’s parks are near and dear to the state’s residents. With the state having a record surplus in its cash reserves, one would think the state could come up with a way to address maintenance needs without having to close parks.

Closing the parks is an extraordinary measure, while this maintenance should be a matter of course. Instead of giving residents two weeks’ notice that these parks are closing early, the notice should have been given months ago.

Nebraska’s park system has been strapped for funds to do needed maintenance projects. Park permits generated $5.5 million in revenue last year, 70% of the system’s operating budget.

The Legislature needs to look for a way to provide funding for park maintenance that will help avoid these temporary closures in the future.

 

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