The traditional idea of parks comes down to two specific ideas: land and community. As I have afore mentioned in the presentation American ideals are much different than that of the normal proponents of parks. The libertarian perspective on parks and recreation asserts the destruction of our ideal in favor of the more traditional standard.
Let us first consider land.
In ancient times, fields would pass down through the family. The reasons for this are obvious; a family would make their living off substance farming. Each family would need a certain amount of land that could support them. For this reason families would need a large amount of land (for the sake of crop diversity) and families would naturally be larger in order to till the land, plant the seed, tend the plants, and harvest the crops. Thus inheritance from one generation to the next would include land and livestock. Israel is a very unusual example because they saw God as dividing up their land for them and regardless of property rights land would revert back to the original family every 50 years. Rome and Greece took the model we are more “familiar” with, that of land being owned by family and passing through to the family under you. If you lost your land in Rome or Greece, good luck on getting it back. Mainly the wealthy owned the land. If you were on the land of a noble man, and you weren’t in the family, you were probably a slave. The ruling people could use your land for the purposes they wanted. The general consensus through the ages is: the land is yours, unless the government needs it.
How America Views Land
With the dawn of the industrial revolution, land was viewed more as a commodity than a necessity. Manufacturing, brokering, and marketing could be done in buildings. The South could worry about the land issue. Paul Bunyan came a cuttin’ down the trees and a tamin’ the wild for the sake of lumber, manufacturing, and the American Way. As with all movements this created a backlash. The rise of exploitationist stocked the flames of the Romantic preservationist. Preservationists (or treetotalers as I call them) are propelled by a very romantic (not realistic) view of nature. Their vision of nature mirrors that of those who first came to this country. The Hudson River school (a group of Romantic painters) pursued their romantic pains on canvas. In their famous works man is portrayed as tiny and nature is both his master and teacher.
The Progressive era attempted to pursue all American mythos at once. Instead of trying to seek better ways that industry and nature could work. They wanted the exploitationist balanced with the preservationist. That is why you have government funding both parks and railroads. We now lived in a time hurt by both ends. The scars of exploitation run deep in our hills, rivers, and lakes (oil spills, acid rain, and endangered animals). Whilst the folly of trying to keep nature natural, stops us from possible technological progress (in fracking and oil pipelines) and reasonable budget cuts in parks and services. Reality must temper the passions of both sides in order for America to know what to do with the issue of land and environment.
In his book National Parks: Rights and the Common Good, Francis N. Lovett reminds us of another way to think of parks and recreation. (Here you see the difference between parks and recreation: American parks are a romantic ideal, recreation is a communitarian approach to using parks). Just because something maybe communitarian does not make it bad. After all we feel the need for providing government buildings to elected officials and memorials to our veterans. Thus we should not begrudge the government staking claim to some land and making it public. “Often a well preserved park or national monument both serves the common good and is a source of joy and ennoblement for many individuals.” Every society needs a place of meeting and gathering. American recreation looks at nature as a means to an end, American parks see nature as an end unto itself. Thus recreation uses (not exploits) nature, while parks revere nature. Common places provide common culture.
People use the common places for various activities, such as hiking, fishing, picnics, camping, swimming, boating, jogging, plain ole meandering and much more. In an urban setting parks provide a break from concrete jungles. They allow people a taste of nature whilst still the convenience of a city. Local parks will typically include a playground, basketball courts, and a few fields for soccer or football. They can also include baseball fields and golf courses depending where in the country they are. The majority of these smaller parks are owned by the states. Depending on the county they maybe able to afford a number of things. I come from an affluent county where one local park has several baseball fields, two full size football fields, several practice/soccer fields, a skate park, stands for football, and a well maintained pond. Why do I mention this? To show the affect money has local politics and local parks and recreational habits.
But of course when I talk about parks and recreation what exactly am I talking, how much do we spend on it?
Well… Here’s just Tennessee:
But why should I focus on Tennessee? Our parks are visited more than Yellowstone. Can I get an “Mhhmmmmm!”? TN: 7,695,502 visitors to national parks (in 2011) v. WY: 5,982,465 visitors to national parks (in 2011).
(Instead of inserting charts and making this post even longer I have here links to some condensed numbers via the National park service) http://www.nps.gov/state/customcf/bythenumbers/tn.pdf
What are the benefits of parks on the national level?
Once again these are mainly indirect. One benefit would be parks and recreation promote healthier life styles without forcing people to pay for a gym membership (helpful in urban environments). With the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid, this could be of grave importance in the future. Most payment for park passes or camping ‘licenses’ are in place to offset operation costs. Thus the federal government looks to retrieving tax revenue through taxing the local businesses who thrive off tourism and taxing to fill up the tank, as well as fees for filming and still photography (because a picture is worth a thousand dollars)*. Now when we think of tourism don’t just think interstate tourism, though that is an important factor. Think international tourism. According to the International Trade Administration 48% of international tourists visit Historical Places , 29% visit Cultural Heritage Sites, and 24% of international tourists visit national parks. So on a national level, parks generate little income, but the truth is we don’t how much pull they really have. In order to understand the impact one must observe parks at a state level.
*Actually the costs are a little more reasonable
What are the benefits of parks and recreation on the state level?
The easy answer here is: everybody now knows that Wyoming has a purpose. Taken more seriously and setting aside the intrinsic qualities like (community and identity):
- State sales tax (it’s not a coincidence that we have a 9.45% sales tax)
- Business boosts- Helpful because this will be later taken out as state income tax, if there is one.
- Revenue from small recreational leagues. (Baseball, soccer, football, Frisbee golf?)
- Speeding tickets (some people just can’t wait to get to the park).
“My research indicates that state parks contribute roughly one-third of all nature recreation in the United States, measured in hours of nature recreation per capita. Using conventional economic approaches to estimate the value of recreation time combined with relatively conservative assumptions, the estimated annual contribution of the state park system is around $14 billion. That value is considerably larger than the annual operation and management costs of state parks.” –Juha Siikamäki
Taken from: http://www.rff.org/Publications/Resources/Pages/179-Parks.aspx
What government agencies are involved?
National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, National Archives, Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, National Oceanic & Atmosphere Administration, Federal Highway Administration, and Bureau of Engraving and Printing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
The annual budget for the NPS is $2.8 billion. However the rest is much broader. Consider that when a fire happens due to campers the local fire department is called. This cost will hit both the fire department and the park rangers. For the sake of the specie diversification and safety the government will participate in controlled burns. Because parks and recreation are include county, state, and federal levels, solid numbers are hard to come by. However in a very recent bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the administration allocated 300 million dollars to improve/make recreational trails among other things. The Recreational Trail Program takes in $75 million. But I think focusing on parks is the best course of action.
The largest problems for parks are not those that are economical but cultural. Parks have the hardest time competing with the whacked dynamics of a highly virtual society.
The economy ain’t so hot and as such the government is hard-pressed to send any park bills to the floor that would assist the parks. Cuts need to be made and parks are the most likely candidate. Recreational bills have come and passed through riding on the back of other legislation (see above). Congress can pass recreational legislation because of the social and political benefits of having a candidate photographed at a basketball court in an urban environment with kids at his side than one next to a tree with rocks at his side. Margaret Walls in her article “Parks and Recreation in the United States: Local Park Systems” mentions that almost every urban park requests more funding. Also there is the issue of misappropriation of funds. There are backlogged maintenance costs some estimate it as high as $6 billion.
This is perhaps the most tragic irony of parks. No matter what you do you cannot escape the effects of industry. The idea of parks is to watch mother nature live until she is slowly smothered by happy tourists. Litter and overuse are expected problems for things like parks (you could say this is a “natural” side effect) the problems start to arise when the use of parks threatens to undo the look of parks. While there are many good things that can be done with this (the installation of trash cans or a ban on Styrofoam cups in a park) the biggest problem is that we want non-modern looking solutions for environmental problems. Our main issue here is aesthetics. There are also issues of trees dying off, infestations, landslides, contamination, and poor air quality. These get lopped into maintenance costs.
Margaret Walls mentions one very interesting fact about parks, which I had not previously considered. She talks of the move from urban environments to suburban. In these cases the front lawn becomes one’s personal park (you can now understand where aesthetics plays in here as well). This could be a reason why people don’t like using their land to grow food for eating. With this emphasis on your personal park, who cares what the local one looks like? This would help explain why urban populations seek out communal places and suburban must pull teeth to foster community. There is also here the issue of virtual reality. Because most of today’s socialites love video games and Facebook, parks and recreation don’t have the same convenience factor. It is ‘all too easy’ to live a life distant from tangiable community.
Here I will only address the possible solutions for funding.
Federal tax incentives:
Currently there is a 20% tax credit for rehabilitating historic, income producing buildings and a 10% tax credit associated with restoring non-historical buildings. One small solution would be to increase that 10% for non-historic renovation up to 15%. After all if private business can do the job better than the federal government, than why not give them a little more incentive to do it. Enact this for a year; watch the growth, then reduce the amount of money going to parks in general if there is sufficient renovation.
This has already been enacted in places like Wyoming and Michigan where the economies are stagnate and they need more revenue than usual, to cover the costs of when the park’s visitation is low in the winter. The trouble is this can reduce the amount of visitors and this doesn’t really help with smaller parks where people have less incentive to go. This has already been done a couple times and quite poorly at that.
Arizona is already picking up on this trend. They have turned over some of their parks to private holders, who are turning American mythos into money. Some of the problems would be the possible poor maintenance of American icons. After all once it’s out of government hands, it’s hard for a business to make easy laws prohibiting rascals from defacing the Grand Canyon (I know a ridiculous example but you understand the point). Also you could have an unnecessary rise in prices for the more iconic parks like Yellowstone and the Grand Teton. As always there is the high probability of over government regulation. After all the government never likes getting beat out of an industry. For further reading:
Saying goodbye to the America’s greatest idea would be impossible to do at once. If government funded parks must go it will be a slow trickle action. The dream must die a slow death, lest our psyche be destroyed. California plans on closing 70 state parks. These parks could be further developed by companies or best case scenarios bought by private investors/companies that would maintain it as a park. But development hurts. Why? Well ask Seth. One of those is Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. Doesn’t sound familiar eh? Well that park happens to be the site where they shot the forest moon of Endor for the sixth Star Wars film. See what I mean about mythos, it hits you right in the heart. http://www.closingcaliforniaparks.com/