Is a park still a park if it has a corporate logo on it? That’s a question New Yorkers are asking these days — and soon perhaps Idaho as well.
Across the country, the Great Recession has devastated sources of public funding for state parks. In New York, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy argues that temporary corporate sponsorships could save parks and historic sites that might be closed.
Levy believes the state should seek bids from the private sector and consider privatizing some or all operations. The businesses could take over or contribute to the cost of running the parks in exchange for being identified as sponsors until the state shores up its finances.
Other cash-strapped states are facing similar problems. Idaho may raise park fees, Washington may close 40 parks and Pennsylvania fought back an effort to close some parks, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And though some other states have considered selling off parks or adding corporate sponsors for advertising, nothing major came of the proposals, in part because of strong opposition from environmental advocates.
Blowback from stakeholders last month when Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter suggested zeroing out state funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation — although the governor now says he did no such thing — was ferocious.
So given the alternatives, would the Canon Sure Shot Niagara Springs Trail be such a bad thing?
“We’re willing to talk to anybody,” Eileen Larrabee, spokeswoman for the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, told The Associated Press.
New York is getting down to cases on keeping state parks open at all. There’s a $4 million proposed increase for fees and licenses for 137 parks that would stay in business after July 1. Another 41 parks — in addition of 14 of New York’s 35 historic sites — would be shut down completely.
Idahoans — as recent history has shown — would find parks closures of the same magnitude unacceptable.
There may come a time — and it may come sooner rather than later — when a corporate logo on a front gate of a public park in Idaho doesn’t look so bad.
In any case, let’s keep our minds open.