Friday, January 23, 2009

State considering closing parks

Four or five state parks would be closed and entrance fees charged at the remaining ones, under a bare-bones budget presented Thursday by the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

DLNR Chairwoman Laura Thielen said the department hadn’t “shredded down” to deciding which parks would be closed. Closing four or five parks is part of a 20-percent budget-cut scenario that might get even more draconian, based on revised economic estimates that put the state $1.8 billion short over three years.

Factors that would be considered include how easy the property would be to close off from public access, how popular it is, how much would be saved in utility costs and whether it was in a remote location that stretches parks staff too thin. No matter where the parks were, the department would take care that the impact wouldn’t’ be felt by just one community or island, she said.

Thielen, speaking to the House Finance Committee, said closing four or five parks could save $250,000 out of a $4.7 million parks and recreation budget. Hawaii's Division of State Parks maintains 53 state parks spanning 25,000 acres on five islands. About 60 percent of park-goers are tourists, compared to 40 percent locals.

“The parks are in dire straits,” Thielen said.

Her preference, however, is not shuttering parks but improving them and charging fees. Under her “Recreational Renaissance” plan, DLNR would float $240 million in bonds, fix up the parks and small boat harbors, and then charge fees for people to use them. Walk-on guests would pay $1 and cars could get in for $5, Thielen said.

“While people don’t like fee increases,” Thielen said, “I think if they see improvements and transparency and a comprehensive plan, we’re going to see we have popular support for that.”

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