The New American Outdoors

State parks all over the country are losing their funding. This has been true for awhile, but the New York Times noticed today and looked at a few creative mechanisms parks are using to stay open, including opening up their land to gas and oil extraction.

So far, as funding for state parks has dropped, attendance has continued to rise. But I wonder how long that can last, particular as parks raise fees or start drilling on their land. Parks aren't nature; they're nature tweaked for human enjoyment. That takes money. I wouldn't want to visit the half of state parks in Michigan that back in 2009 were already dealing with problems like crumbling buildings, sketchy bridges, and faulty toilets.

I'm picking on Michigan in part because a state park I visited there on a road trip a couple years back stands out in my mind as an example of how unpleasant neglected parks can be. What looked on the map and on the Internet like a nice place to stop for lunch and look out over Lake Michigan turned out to be a hot, mosquito-infested maze. When we followed the park road too far, it turned out to double as a driveway to a private home, the owner of which had posted more than few no trespassing signs. The few trails had no signs; there were, however, posters all over the place warning that two different fugitives might be hiding in the park and that it would be unwise to approach them, should they show up.

All neglected state parks might not end up this way, but creating and maintaining a park does take more than setting off a parcel of wooded land and cutting a few trails through it. And if park attendance drops because of poor conditions, that could be just another excuse to cut funding.

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