NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Public-Private Partnerships Help Keep Parks Open

July 6, 2011

Minnesota's government shut down last week after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on how to handle the state's projected $5 billion deficit.  The Duluth News Tribune provides an exhaustive list of what's open and what's not, reporting, "state parks, state forest campgrounds and state rest areas [are] all closed."  This outcome should sound all too familiar to parks advocates.  During the infamous government shutdown of 1995, most national parks faced closure under similar circumstances after Congress failed to reach a budget agreement, says Harris Kenny, a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation.

These two situations are similar, but not identical.  In the current Minnesota shutdown all state parks will be closed.  In the 1995 federal shutdown many federal parks and recreation areas were closed.  What's the difference?

  • The U.S. Forest Service has been partnering with private concessionaires through parks management public-private partnerships (PPPs) for over 25 years.
  • Because of these concession agreements, a number of national parks and recreation areas were able to stay open throughout the federal government shutdown.
  • Under parks management PPPs the public maintains ownership of parks and retains its traditional role overseeing strategy.
  • With the state's policy setting and oversight in place, the private sector concessionaire would then assume typical day-to-day park operations and maintenance functions.

Government shutdowns are an extreme reminder of the perils of publicly financed conservation and outdoor recreation.  On a smaller scale, parks are pitted against core governmental functions like public safety every single budget cycle.  Parks are too important to leave at the whim of politicized budget battles and Minnesota lawmakers should explore partnering with the private sector to sustainably protect state parks in perpetuity, says Kenny.

Source: Harris Kenny, "State Parks Fall Prey to MN Government Shutdown," Reason Foundation, July 1, 2011.

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