New Draft Plan for NH State Parks: Change is Needed

Mount Sunapee State Park Beach in Newbury, NH

A recently released, new draft of the Ten-Year Strategic Development and Capital Improvement Plan for New Hampshire’s state parks says change is needed. The plan proposes new funding models, capital investment, and new directions in management and operations.

The Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) released the report November 23 in Concord, and is accepting public comment on the plan through December 24, 2009. Comments can be made by emailing, writing or attending one of the remaining public hearings, in Peterborough on December 7 (at the Peterborough Town Hall at 6 p.m.)  and in Lancaster on December 8 (at DRED North Country Resource Center at 6 p.m.) Details are available via http://www.nhstateparks.org or by calling 603-271-3556.

According to Ted Austin, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, the plan is intended to reverse the trend from gradual decline to a vibrant, sustainable State Park System. It will act as a catalyst for change and a template for management to take advantage of opportunities to improve the system.

Managing the State Parks more effectively will require new partnerships, new thinking, new collaboration between DRED, Friends groups, the legislature, and host communities. — Ted Austin, director of the NH Division of Parks and Recreation

The Division of Parks and Recreation, one of four divisions of DRED, manages 74 properties, including state parks, beaches, campgrounds, historic sites, trails, waysides, and natural areas and is comprised of the Parks Bureau, Bureau of Historic Sites, Bureau of Trails, and Cannon Mountain.

Austin explained that the Division faces financial and operational challenges. The funding challenge is that in 1991 the Division became a self-funding agency and has consistently has been running a deficit. That deficit has averaged, on an annual basis for the past 20 years, $404,746. The result has been deferred maintenance, reduced programming, and a growing backlog of capital needs. Recent capital appropriations in 2007 and 2009 have begun to turn the tide, but more is needed.

The plan calls for eliminating a carry-forward loss created by the annual deficit, projected as $1.8 million for FY ’09. It also calls for:

·         $750,000 in non-capital needs to replace worn-out equipment, needed for the next operating season

·         $ 1.7 million in capital investments for immediate stabilization of facilities in the next three years

·         $28.5 million in capital to attend to deferred maintenance needs in the next five years

·         Some four dozen strategies for more effective management and stewardship

·         New models for management, stewardship, and revenue generation

Austin also acknowledged that the Division must be managed and operated better.  “The parks culture must change to one of accepting responsibility, of tracking results, of establishing baselines for measurement and comparison of results, and for benchmarking performance.”

The plan includes the following:

·         Comprehensive assessment of the condition of each state park

·         Strategic goals and recommendations

·         First ever Opinion Survey of Park Users

·         Financial Overview of the Park System

·         Economic Impact of State Parks

·         Extensive Park by Park Capital Improvement Plan

·         A proposed new Approach to Managing State Parks

Comments on the plan can be emailed to johanna.lyons@dred.state.nh.us.

Read related articles:

New draft plan: NH state parks need direct funding (Nashua Telegraph)

Poor Parks – N.H. Funding Strategy Has Failed (Valley News editorial)

Parks hopes to keep ‘Friends’ in mind-Volunteers critical to revitalization (Concord Monitor)

See ConservationNH YouTube video of DRED’s press conference announcing the plan with Commissioner George Bald (DRED) and Director Ted Austin (Division of Parks and Recreation).

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