Dwindling funding and deep budget cuts have led Colorado’s Parks Board to consider opening its doors to oil and gas drilling in state parks.
Revenue Not Meeting Costs
Records show 12 million people visited Colorado state parks in 2009, but visitor fees do not cover the costs of operation, and state funding has been cut back as the legislature struggles to tame budget deficits. In 2010 the lawmakers trimmed state park funds to $2.6 million, down from $6.7 million in 2009.
To keep the parks operating in the wake of the funding cuts, the Parks Board has recommended selling leases for oil and gas production at some of its parks.
“We’re just like any other entity,” State Parks spokeswoman Deb Frazier told the Colorado Daily News. “We are looking at other ways to help with our income.”
The proposal is part of the Parks Board’s five year plan, which also includes recommendations to remove four parks from the 42-park system and to cut salaries. State Parks manages nearly 226,000 acres of Colorado’s lands.
Bridging the Gap
If approved, the plan could go far toward bridging the state’s parks budget for the upcoming year.
“I am in favor of this,” said Don Marostica, a former Colorado state legislator who now directs of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“With the 2011-12 Colorado state budget $1.2 billion in the hole and and the 2012-13 budget going to be about the same, we are going to have to look at every way possible way to support what is important to the citizens of Colorado. State Parks are citizen-owned assets, and revenues from mineral production are a way to support keeping them open. Otherwise, [the state should] sell the assets,” said Marostica.
State Budget Priorities
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) says he’s intrigued by the lease idea and sees the potential to solve a budget crisis in at least one agency.
“We’re very short on cash right now,” Lundberg said. “To me, it’s a time of prioritizing. We have nice parks, but honestly, they’re not the top of the budget right now.”
“I’m not against parks,” Lundberg emphasized. “I just recognize that there are a lot of other issues that are budgetary priorities.”
Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) writes from Virginia.