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More Problems Detected in Calif. Parks Audit

September 11, 2013 by · Comments Off on More Problems Detected in Calif. Parks Audit 

A view of a blanket of clouds from Mount Tamalpais State Park in Northern California. A report has found that the state parks department lacks a system to track spending at individual parks. Photo courtesy of California State Parks and the Los Angeles Times

The California parks department, which was rocked by an accounting scandal last year, has not completely corrected its practices, according to a new audit.

The department still lacks a system to track spending at individual parks, said the report, released Tuesday. And its budgets are calculated too slowly for officials to adequately plan park operations, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The audit also found that more employees than previously believed were inappropriately reimbursed for unused vacation time. Roughly $42,000 was paid to several employees in 2010 and 2011, the report said. That’s on top of $271,000 already discovered in an internal review.

The payments did not follow state guidelines for when such reimbursements can be made, or they were made without the necessary approvals.

Click here to read the entire story

 

 

 

Calif.’s ‘Parks Forward’ Begins Idea Gathering

September 10, 2013 by · Comments Off on Calif.’s ‘Parks Forward’ Begins Idea Gathering 

California’s state parks have an international reputation and widely acknowledged value as a spiritual and financial asset, but park budgets have been cut so much by Sacramento politicians, including successive governors, that a quarter nearly went extinct in 2012.

But during the next year, the state is convening a kind of constitutional convention for how the state’s beloved parks should be run going forward, taking a tip-to-toe look at everything from revenues to drawing a more diverse group of parkgoers, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

On Monday (Sept. 9), the first of 10 statewide workshops to solicit new ideas from the public came to Santa Cruz, and state officials got earfuls.

“The idea is not to create a plan that goes in a binder and goes on a shelf,” said Melissa Johnson, deputy executive director of the Parks Forward Initiative. “The idea is to come up with a plan that will actually be implemented.”

While the pros and cons of off-leash dogs threatened to hijack the meeting — no fewer than 10 spoke about what had been a local debate — a group of state officials heard a range of ideas from about 100 people, a crowd that skewed white and elderly. The four-hour plus meeting was at Louden Nelson Community Center.

People spoke about installing more user-friendly facilities, from increased picnic sites and fire rings to more bike trails, possibly in partnership with bike manufacturers. One person suggested student specials to increase youth participation, while another decried the state of bocce courts in Monterey State Historic Park.

A man suggested saving money with fewer large trucks for parks workers, drawing applause when he suggested wardens ride motorcycles. One woman complained that it cost $50 to park a horse trailer at a park, raising an issue — rising fees — that came up over and over following years during which the state has increasingly relied on users instead of the general fund to pay for California’s 278 parks.

Click here to read the entire story.

Click here to learn more about the state commission charged with studying the system.

Early Season Close for 29 Nebraskan Facilities

September 3, 2013 by · Comments Off on Early Season Close for 29 Nebraskan Facilities 

Funding challenges have forced the Nebraska Game and Parks Board to temporarily close 24 state recreation areas (SRA) and five state historical parks (SHP), KLKN-TV, Lincoln, Neb., reported.

The purpose of the closures is to redirect Game and Parks staff from the closed areas in an effort to reduce the more than $30 million of identified deferred maintenance needs of an aging Nebraska State Park System and meet compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and environmental requirements.

SRAs that will close Sept. 16 and reopen May 1, 2014, are: Blue River, Cheyenne, Conestoga, Cottonwood, Dead Timber, DLD, Keller, Long Lake, Long Pine, North Loup, Olive Creek, Oliver Reservoir, Pelican Point, Riverview Marina, Rock Creek Lake, Sandy Channel, Schramm, Sutherland, Union Pacific, Verdon, Stagecoach, Walgren, and War Axe. Vehicle access to boat ramps will remain open at Riverview, Pelican Point and Sutherland’s Hershey Beach.

State historic parks that will close Sept. 16 and reopen May 1, 2014, are: Ash Hollow, Buffalo Bill, and Fort Hartsuff. The closure of Arbor Lodge SHP in Nebraska City will be delayed until Sept. 23, following the Applejack Festival, and will reopen April 23, 2014, for the Arbor Day celebration.

Fort Atkinson SHP and Alexandria SRA will close Oct. 7 and reopen May 1, 2014. This is to accommodate Fort Atkinson’s annual living history weekend Oct. 5-6. The delayed closure at Alexandria SRA accommodates services being provided by a concessionaire.

These closures are a continuation of a process over the past five years that led to the transfer of eight park areas, privatization and consolidation of several park operations, and elimination of 43 permanent park positions (nearly 20%). These decisions have been driven by the lack of a sustainable funding source to operate and maintain a quality State Park System into the future.

“The temporary closure of parks and the redirection of staff to work priority projects is one more step in an effort to address the funding challenges of the Nebraska State Park System,” Game and Parks Director Jim Douglas said. “Game and Parks recognizes and values the importance of our partnerships and the role our state park areas play. These measures are a necessary management decision that is difficult to make, but Game and Parks is running out of options. We hope the public and our park visitors will understand we are doing everything we can to shore up our infrastructure and meet our mandates for accessibility and requirements regarding environmental compliance in light of the limited funding available.”

State Sen. Bill Avery introduced LB362 during the 2013 legislative session. The bill was designed to replace the Park Entry Permit by placing a $7 charge on the motor vehicle registration fee. LB362’s future is uncertain, but if passed as proposed, the bill’s language would repeal the Park Entry Permit requirement for residents and generate enough annual revenue to provide a sustainable funding model that would allow Game and Parks to properly address deferred maintenance and ADA needs to ensure a quality State Park System.

 

Washington Parks’ ‘Discover Pass’ Still a Bust

August 27, 2013 by · Comments Off on Washington Parks’ ‘Discover Pass’ Still a Bust 

From the Washington state parks website

The Discover Pass is still keeping many people from enjoying Washington’s state parks.

For the third summer in a row, there’s been a drop in visitors at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco, KEPR-TV, Pasco, reported.

Under the Discover Pass, folks have had to pay $30 to get a yearly pass at Sacajawea.

A one-day visit is $10.

A few years after those fees were introduced, many people still refuse to pay them.

Since the changes went into effect, overall attendance at Sacajawea has dropped by nearly a third.

Despite the struggles, lawmakers have no plans to scrap the Discover Pass.

 

Editorial: Calif. Needs a Park System Overhaul

August 15, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise.

Reports of scandal and mismanagement last year made clear the need to overhaul California’s state parks system. A new state advisory panel on parks can provide useful input. But more advice matters little if the people with the real authority do not make basic changes. Legislators need to ensure that the state parks system is properly managed and financially sustainable over the long-term.

The state this month unveiled a 12-member volunteer panel, known as Parks Forward, tasked with crafting a blueprint for the park system’s future. The chairs of the privately financed commission will be former state Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego and Bay Area businessman and conservationist Lance Conn. The group plans to present its recommendations to the Legislature in the fall of 2014.

But legislators already have strong advice from the state’s legislative analyst and the watchdog Little Hoover Commission. Another high-profile outside review will achieve nothing if legislators fail to act on the advice. The governor replaced the agency’s manager last year, but ensuring a fiscally sustainable, well-managed park system requires more than just a change at the top.

California already knows the state Parks and Recreation Department needs a better operating model. Gov. Jerry Brown last year proposed closing 70 of the state’s 280 parks, in order to save $22 million — though no one could adequately explain why trimming $22 million out of an operating budget of nearly $500 million should cause shuttering a quarter of the state’s parks. Then state officials announced in July 2012 they had discovered a $54 million surplus in the parks department. A state auditor’s report in February said the parks agency lacked a clear picture of how much each park cost to operate, and made the decision to close parks without any real idea of how much money that step might save. The auditor also found that the department had been reporting incorrect budget totals as far back as 1999, for reasons that no one could explain.

Lax fiscal oversight is an unacceptable approach — and is particularly galling in a state with chronically unstable finances. State parks need to be more creative and financially adept to help the system thrive. Legislators, for example, should give parks the flexibility to pursue creative ways of generating income beyond merely raising fees. The parks agency should ease the department’s fiscal strain by transferring some parks of mainly local interest to local control, and expanding the use of partnerships with nonprofit groups and private companies in running parks. And the system should bring in managers with business and fiscal expertise, instead of mainly relying on park rangers with peace officer training to oversee operations. The Legislature also needs to find ways to tackle a $1.3 billion backlog in park maintenance projects.

Californians value their state parks, which include some of the most scenic landscapes in the state. But preserving those amenities for future generations to enjoy requires a more effective approach than haphazard oversight, sloppy accounting and outdated attitudes.

 

Latest Briefs for RV Parks and Campgrounds

June 28, 2013 by · Comments Off on Latest Briefs for RV Parks and Campgrounds 

WASHINGTON

From The Associated Press:

Washington lawmakers reached a long-sought accord on a new state budget Thursday (June 27) and hurried to schedule votes that would avert a state government shutdown.

Such a shutdown would have closed state parks and fishing in Pacific County just before the summer’s first huge tourist weekend.

Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news conference, flanked by lawmakers from both parties, that the Legislature is hoping to approve the measure before state employees leave work today. Political leaders declined to discuss details of the plan and declined to make the $33.6 billion spending proposal available for public review.

“The deal reached today makes it clear that state government will continue to operate,” Inslee said.

IOWA

From from KWQC-TV, Davenport, Radio Iowa and the Telegraph Herald, Dubuque:

The Scott County Conservation Board says due to flooding, the Buffalo Shores Campgrounds will be closed for safety reasons, effective today (June 28).

The board expects the closure to last at least through the 4th of July weekend, due to the current river projections.

Campers can still use Scott County facilities at West Lake Park and Scott County Park, which are open and unaffected by flooding.

Meanwhile, due to the rising Mississippi River levels, Miller Riverview Park will not be open for the July 4 holiday.

The river peaked on Thursday at approximately 20.7 feet, and it will take several days for the water to go down, and then several more days for the area to dry out before cleanup can begin.

All campers with July 4 holiday reservations will be sent refund checks in the mail within the next two weeks.

The opening date for the Miller Riverview campground has again been delayed until further notice.

Rising river waters could force state officials to close portions of the Wapsipinicon State Park near Anamosa sometime today and, depending on the damage, those areas would remain closed for the 4th of July weekend. Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kevin Baskins says a wedding planned in the park may have to be moved or rescheduled.

State officials say the George Wyth State Park near Waterloo may reopen July 1 “if conditions allow.” The campground in the Yellow River State Forest near Harpers Ferry in the far corner of northeast Iowa has been heavily damaged by flooding and state officials aren’t sure when it may reopen.

FLORIDA

From the Orlando Sentinel:

A year ago, the Florida Legislature agreed to allow advertising along state-owned greenways and trails. Some supporters of state parks accused Gov. Rick Scott of selling an important aspect of public lands to the highest bidder and warned that the legislation would diminish hiking in serene, uncluttered natural habitats.

However, since the law took effect on July 1, 2012, no signs have gone up. Actually, not a single business or nonprofit group has applied to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to sponsor a trail or greenway, DEP spokesman Patrick Gillespie said in an email.

Part of the reason for the delay is that sponsorship rules have yet to be set by the agency — and it is not known if they will ever be. “The bill gives the department authority and discretion to determine how to move forward,” Gillespie said. “At this point, staff is evaluating how to proceed.”

State lawmakers dictated that 85% of any profits from state-park ads were to go toward upkeep of the greenways and trails, with the remaining 15% to fund the state Department of Transportation’s Bicycle Safety Program.

 

 

6,800 Wash. Campers Risk “4th” Cancellation

June 26, 2013 by · Comments Off on 6,800 Wash. Campers Risk “4th” Cancellation 

‘‘‘Prospective campers are bracing for the possible shutdown of state camping facilities in Washington over the coming July 4th holiday if the state government shuts down this weekend.

All state parks in the state of Washington would be closed if there’s a government shutdown, my northwest.com reported. All 117 parks and facilities would be off-limits.

“The gates would be closed,” said state parks spokesperson Virginia Painter. There are no services for them. No restrooms. No public safety.”

The campgrounds are nearly full for the 4th of July holiday. There are 6,800 reservations, statewide, for the first week of July. Those reservations would be canceled during any shutdown and campers would have to make other plans. “We’re working on how we would process refunds,” Painter said. “We’re working on those details right now.”

Painter said the agency is also preparing to notify those people holding reservations about what they can do, but she said they’re holding out hope those are calls they won’t have to make. “At this point, we just need to cross our fingers and remain optimistic, but we are also considering when to warn people about the situation,” she said.

Olympia still has six days to figure out a budget and avoid a government shutdown.

 

Parks Forward: Make Calif. Parks ‘Sustainable’

June 4, 2013 by · Comments Off on Parks Forward: Make Calif. Parks ‘Sustainable’ 

California officials on Monday (June 3) launched a new program to analyze and overhaul the state parks system, to be led by a volunteer commission.

Called Parks Forward, the effort is required by the California State Parks Stewardship Act, passed last year in the wake of a financial scandal that upended the leadership ranks at state parks headquarters, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The system has been under scrutiny since The Bee revealed last year that top officials at the Department of Parks and Recreation hid $20 million in “surplus” money even as they set about closing 70 parks due to budget cuts.

Among its other troubles, the department has a deferred maintenance backlog at its 280 parks that exceeds $1 billion.

That is partly because the state general fund subsidy for parks has declined over the past 20 years, and revenues from visitor fees have not filled the gap.

California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said Monday that Parks Forward aims to make the parks department “sustainable” over the next century.

“We would like to get to a point where we are not deferring maintenance and we are adequately funding the stewardship of the parks,” he said.

Laird will appoint the commission members, to include park users as well as experts on conservation and finance. The only commissioner named so far is Lance Conn, a venture capitalist and former investor for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Parks Forward will be funded by grants from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and others, under the auspices of the Resources Legacy Fund. For more information, visit: www.parksforward.com.

Click here to read the entire story.

 

Latest Briefs for RV Parks and Campgrounds

May 22, 2013 by · Comments Off on Latest Briefs for RV Parks and Campgrounds 

UTAH

From The Associated Press:

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says his state does a better job than federal managers and has a bigger stake than the bureaucrats in protecting the natural resources and rugged beauty that drives Utah’s outdoor recreation and tourism industry.

Herbert, the chairman of the Western Governors’ Association, was the lone witness to testify in Washington on Tuesday before a congressional subcommittee examining the role of state and federal governments in managing national parks, forests and public rangelands.

The Republican governor says no one understands state challenges and demographics better than the people who reside and govern there. He says federal managers are hamstrung by regulatory and statutory frameworks that keep them from effectively addressing pressing needs, including rapid declines in the health of national forests and rangelands.

IOWA

From the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier:

George Wyth State Park closed Tuesday night (May 21) due to flooding from the Cedar River.

Campers who had reservations were being contacted and offered a full refund, said Kevin Szcodronski, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau.

The weather forecast may allow for the park and campground to be reopened on Saturday morning.

“Campers have option of taking a wait and see approach until later in the week when they can either have a refund for the nights the campground is closed or cancel the entire reservation,” Szcodronski said.

ALBERTA

From the Calgary Herald:

The Victoria Day long weekend has concluded in alberta with few problems at the province’s leading national park.

“It was a pretty good long weekend,” said Michelle Macullo, spokeswoman for Banff National Park.

More than 11,000 people passed through Banff’s east gates, which were steady all weekend, while hundreds of people visited the information centre and the newly reopened Cave and Basin historic site.

The site, which reopened Friday after being closed for renovations for three years, recorded more than 4,000 visitors during the past four days.

Over the long weekend, Macullo said, there were no reports of damage or major incidents at the campgrounds — a number that has been decreasing steadily since an alcohol ban was implemented in the park a few years ago.

WISCONSIN

From the Wisconsin State Journal:

The Legislature’s powerful budget committee voted Tuesday (May 21) to modify Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to sell or lease state property by adding oversight to the process.

The proposal would give the state Department of Administration and the state Building Commission, which Walker chairs, broad authority to sell or lease state property “with or without the approval of the agency with jurisdiction over the property.”

Democrats on the committee called the proposal “breathtaking” and confirmed, through questioning of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s Al Runde, that most property owned by the state, except state parks and lands owned by the state Department of Natural Resources, could be sold or leased, under the proposal.

VERMONT

From WCAX-TV, Burlington:

There’s going to be a greater police presence at a Vermont state park.

Park officials say an increase in nighttime noise and activities has prompted the initiative at Lake Bomoseen State Park in Castleton.

A contract is in the works with Castleton Police, who will be hired by the park for a summer fee of about $7,000. There will be one officer on duty, who will conduct a seven-hour foot patrol throughout the park.

Castleton Police Chief Bruce Sherwin says in previous summers, the police would only drive through the parks.

The patrols will mostly happen in the evening time and on weekends in response to noise issues regarding drinking parties.

The park will be open Memorial Day weekend.

CALIFORNIA

From the Agoura Hills Patch:

Camping areas and trails in Point Mugu State Park damaged by the massive Springs Fire will reopen this week.

The Sycamore Campground, Point Mugu State Park back country area, Chumash Trail head parking, the La Jolla Group Camp and La Jolla Day Use will all reopen May 24, according to Craig Sap, superintendent for California State Parks Angeles District.

Some trails in the Point Mugu State Park back country will remain closed, Sap said.

The Camarillo Springs fire began near the 101 Freeway and raced down to Pacific Coast Highway at Point Mugu. Thousands of acres of State and National Park lands were scorched. Volunteer efforts to weed out non-native plants are ongoing.

ARIZONA

From a news release:

Phoenix-based Cavco Industries Inc. will release earnings for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013 on Thursday (May 23) after the market closes.

 

Neb. Park Bailout Idea Labeled ‘Extortion’

April 22, 2013 by · Comments Off on Neb. Park Bailout Idea Labeled ‘Extortion’ 

Sen. Bill Avery started debate Wednesday (April 17) in the Nebraska legislature on an idea to fund improvements for state parks with a disclaimer.

“This bill is not popular, and I know that,” he said.

He was right. Debate did not produce a vote on the bill. Most senators agreed there was a need to fix the parks’ problems; they just couldn’t say how, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton led the opposition to the bill (LB362), which would add $7 to most vehicle registrations to pay for the parks’ needs.

“I think this would be a great topic for an interim study for the Natural Resources Committee to conduct,” Dubas said.

The bill was one idea for Nebraska residents to help pay the $43 million in needed improvements to the park system. It would generate about $12 million a year.

The proposal would replace the $25 yearly park fee with a $7 car registration fee that would allow any vehicle with Nebraska license plates to enter state parks or recreation areas without permits.

Non-Nebraska residents would continue to pay the $25 yearly fee or $5 daily fee.

In 2011, lawmakers raised annual permit fees to $25 from $20 and daily passes to $5 from $4, a measure that took an override of Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto.

In 2012, Nebraska Game and Parks sold 242,000 daily permits, 140,000 annual permits and 66,000 duplicate annual permits for a total of $5.5 million. Charging about $3.50 per registration would raise about the same amount of money.

In addition to the parks’ daily maintenance and operational needs, Avery said they have more than $30 million in backlogged maintenance that has pressed some of them to near closure. Ash Hollow State Park needs a new septic system and Calamus Reservoir State Recreation Area needs a new dock. There is also a $13 million need for improvements in accessibility for people with handicaps.

In the past two years, the state has turned over five state parks to counties for maintenance by such organizations as Rotary Clubs and Boy Scouts.

Permit revenue provides most of the funding for the state park system, which consists of eight parks, 11 historic parks such as Arbor Lodge in Nebraska City, 64 recreation areas and two recreational trails that see a total of more than 12 million visitors a year.

Dubas said some of the exemptions to the bill — including vehicles with handicap, veteran-related and historical plates and trucks — could be unconstitutional.

Nebraska ranks among the highest in the nation on car registration fees and taxes, with an average cost of $306 per vehicle, she said.

Dubas said the parks contribute in a major way to the state’s economy and highlight its natural resources to people from out-of-state.

“But I just really struggle with the direction that we’re going in trying to find a solution to this,” she said.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers also opposed the bill.

“This is extortion,” he said. “I do not want the Department of Motor Vehicles to become a cash register to hustle money for Game and Parks and compel people to put seven additional dollars down when they can barely pay the cost now that’s required.”

Avery said that before the bill comes back for debate, he would look for ways to reduce the $7 fee, and a funding mechanism to make up the difference.

 

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