America’s state parks are popular, receiving over 725 million visitors in 2010 alone; yet state governments are finding it increasingly difficult to keep the gates open. As state budgets shrink, funding for state parks is now competing directly with other policy priorities like education, public health and safety, the Hawaii Free Press reported.

Across the country, parks have been closed and budgets have been drastically reduced as governors and legislatures grapple with solutions to maintain these American treasures, say Leonard Gilroy, Harris Kenny and Julian Morris of the Reason Foundation.

  • In a new study, Gilroy, Kenny and Morris describe a public-private partnership (PPP) model that would aid parks in becoming self-sufficient.
  • A PPP would transfer many, if not all, of the responsibility for park services to private concessionaires.
  • Thousands of developed U.S. Forest Service recreation areas have utilized this PPP model successfully for more than 25 years.

Private concessionaires benefit from reduced labor and management costs and are required to meet the quality and maintenance standards established by the government. Additionally, a concessionaire operating under a PPP would bear the responsibility for generating revenues, conducting routine maintenance, holding liability insurance and delivering projects on-time and on-budget. The state park will still maintain land ownership and oversee strategy, planning, park character and rulemaking.

A 2011 study by Recreation Resource Management showed that Arizona state park Red Rock, operated by a public agency, cost the state $234,000, while Crescent Moon, a U.S. Forest Service property operated through a PPP, generated $44,873 in profit. With the evidence and fiscal crises in mind, it is no surprise that in 2012 California became the first state to hand control of state parks over to private recreation management companies.

Click here to read more about the study.