A big idea to close Arizona parks’ budget gap

[Source: Bryan Martyn, Arizona Republic Opinion] – Arizona State Parks and programs generate more than $300 million annually for rural economies thanks to the almost 2.5 million visitors exploring Arizona’s wide-open spaces.

Unfortunately, the legislative funding to keep parks healthy and promoting Arizona’s tourism has dwindled to almost nothing. Five years ago State Parks’ operating funds were swept by $81 million and the annual $10 million from the voter-approved Heritage Fund was eliminated.

To help overcome these operating fund losses and to create funding to mitigate an $80 million backlog in park maintenance projects, the agency made it a mission to review best business practices from around the country to help identify alternative funding sources.

One of the best business concepts is to create additional revenue by enhancing the services provided by private concessionaires.

The State Parks department utilizes eight concessionaires who provide valuable amenities and services within the parks. These concessions provide everything from boat rentals to fishing tackle.

Many of these small concession contracts are expiring soon, and these facilities are in need of new capital improvements. To address this issue, the agency is exploring the possibility of attracting a single concessionaire with the business acumen and financial strength to dramatically increase the agency’s concession revenues and provide amenities to help drive those revenues.

Arizona’s state parks directly and indirectly generate millions of dollars each year to boost Arizona’s tourism economies. Parks currently generate $13 million annually through gate fees to operate all parks and statewide agency programs.

The agency has 163 full-time employees, down from more than 400 in 2007. We effectively utilize 1,000 volunteers who donate $5 million worth of salaried time to help keep the parks operating.

Bryan Martyn is director of Arizona State Parks.

Story Highlights

  • State parks struggle to find the money to stay afloat
  • Staff and volunteers have performed valiantly
  • But hiring a single concessionaire could provide the financial acumen to improve amenities