A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says volunteers will play a key role in keeping areas of state parks open to the public in 2010. Kevin Baskins says the agency lost 26% of its funding from the state over the last two years.
If budget cuts continue to grow, the D.N.R. could choose to close trails, parks or beaches in state parks to save on maintenance costs. Baskins says staffing levels are at historic lows and volunteers will be needed to pick up the slack. “At this point, we’re just kind of getting off the ground in terms of our recruitment efforts and trying to identify what parks are going to need the most assistance,” Baskins said.
“I think you’ll start to see that unfold a little bit more as we get into the later winter and early spring (months) in terms of recruitment efforts to get volunteers to help us with this.” For now, there are no plans to close entire parks. But, some areas of parks that don’t generate cash may be roped off from public use next summer.
Baskins says the budget cuts are coming at a time when state park usage is on the rise. “We did see a good, healthy increase (in usage) last year,” Baskins said. “Part of that is actually an offshoot of the economy as people look for closer to home, less expensive vacation opportunities around the state.” Iowa’s 85 state parks draw roughly 14-million visits per year.