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A study by a General Assembly committee suggests that the state could save more than $2 million annually by closing state parks during the winter and closing other state-supported attractions all together.
The study by the Program Evaluation Division (.pdf) for the North Carolina General Assembly was received by a legislative oversight committee and sent to a subcommittee for further examination, WRAL reported Tuesday.
The legislature ordered the study last year to determine whether the state could save money by consolidating administration "and to suggest optimal operating schedules for sites," a cover letter with the study says.
The review included sites administered by the Department of Cultural Resources (23 state historic sites, nine museums, and three commissions) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (39 state parks and recreation areas, three aquariums, Jennette's Pier, the North Carolina Zoological Park, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and the North Carolina Museum of Forestry).
The study calls for DENR to record daily visitation at all of its parks and recreation areas, and to use this data to determine the impact of closing December through February. “The Program Evaluation Division estimated the state could save $2.4 million by closing all state parks and recreation areas for three months during the winter season, but the division determined it was premature to recommend that level of closure without daily visitation data,” it says.
The study’s other recommendations include:
• Adopting a five-day schedule for seven historic sites and closing two: the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City and the CSS Neuse/Richard Caswell Memorial in Kinston. On a cost-per-visitor basis, they are among the system’s most expensive to operate.
• Privatizing the N.C. Zoo and aquariums, and developing or expanding private-public partnerships or private sponsorships for other sites.
• Consolidating management of sites in close proximity to each other, such as Singletary Lake State Park and the undeveloped Bay Tree Lake State Park in Bladen County, and at Bennett Place, Duke Homestead, and Historic Stagville in Durham County.
• Increasing admission fees or eliminating fee discounts (such as for senior citizens) at the zoo and aquariums.
In letters attached to the report, officials from DENR and Cultural Resources dispute some of the study's findings, downplay projected savings and reject the study’s recommendations.
Lewis Ledford, director of the state Division of Parks and Recreation, told WRAL that most state parks aren't designed to keep people out, and trying to close them for the winter could pose safety and security risks for people and the facilities.
Officials with both agencies point out that in some rural areas, the state sites are the only recreational attractions available to residents.