Policy Documents

Parks 2.0: Operating State Parks Through Public-Private Partnerships

Leonard Gilroy, Harris Kenny, Julian Morris –
November 11, 2013

In this joint study by the Reason Foundation and the Buckeye Institute, the authors assert that the ongoing fiscal challenges facing state governments are creating an existential crisis for state parks. Budget pressures have prompted states to close or significantly reduce services in hundreds of state parks, or at minimum reduce parks budgets, nationwide. Beyond the threat of closures, the ongoing economic malaise has exacerbated a widespread, pre-existing problem of inadequate and deferred maintenance. Yet state parks remain popular while their maintenance needs continue to worsen; they received 725 million visitors at over 6,000 sites around the country in 2010 alone. Can this popularity be turned from a cost into a benefit? One way to keep state parks open without imposing additional burdens on the taxpayer is to utilize public-private partnerships (PPPs). Many states already successfully use private concessionaires to provide piecemeal services within parks—including food, retail, lodging, marinas, and other commercial activities—so a shift to more extensive involvement can build on that.