Nebraska can’t afford to continue neglecting our state park system
By Russ Pankonin, The Imperial Republican
Last year, the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission floated a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that would have abolished park permits and their fees. In it’s place, Game & Parks proposed a flat $7 fee on every license registration fee in the state.
Since 2009, Game & Parks has been in survival mode, cutting operations to the bare bone. That meant not filling open positions, cutting back park hours and maintenance in many parks, along with seasonal closings all together for other parks.
It also meant looking for ways to partner with local entities who were interested in taking over their local attractions rather than having them closed. Chase County taking over ownership of the Champion Mill is a perfect example of that.
The goal of last year’s bill was to produce enough revenue to bring the parks back to a normal operating state and begin whittling away at a backlog of maintenance that had been deferred due to cutbacks.
In what was a surprise to me, last year’s bill got walloped on the floor of the Legislature from all sides and suffered an untimely demise.
Even though the bill lacked support last year, it has apparently opened the eyes of the Legislature to the needs of taking care of OUR parks this year.
Nebraska has 79 parks in its system that are managed by the Game & Parks Commission. Take note of the word “manage.” Game & Parks does not own one of state’s 79 parks—you and I do as Nebraska citizens.
You know what happens to your home when you continually defer regular, ongoing maintenance needs—it deteriorates. The same can be said for “OUR” park system.
According to testimony in a legislative hearing this session, Game & Parks estimates the cost for deferred maintenance projects already totals $30 million and continues to grow.
Meeting federal mandates for handicapped accessibility at state parks and state mandates from the Department of Environmental Quality for updated toilet systems represents a big share of the deferred maintenance.
With attention generated from last year’s debate, several bills have been introduced this session to address the need to take care of our parks.
One proposal from Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln would divert $2.5 million collected annually from the sale of motorboats and personal watercraft to the Game & Parks capital maintenance fund.
Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney wants to earmark the taxes from the sale of all-terrain vehicles and utility-type vehicles for the park system. Currently, ATVs can’t be used in all parks, which could bring a reaction from ATV owners requesting access to all parks.
Another proposal by Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill would give Game and Parks a one-time infusion of $15 million from the state’s cash reserve. This infusion would only be successful if future on-going funding from sources listed above were also approved as part of the package.
As Nebraskans, we can no longer afford to neglect the state park system that typifies “The Good Life” in Nebraska and represents an important engine in the state’s economy.
It’s time for each of us to act by making contact with our state senator and any other influential contacts in Lincoln and let them know that meeting the needs of our state park system is an investment in the “Good Life” and future of Nebraska.