Privatizing State Parks Doesn’t Work | News

Every few years, the West Virginia legislature attempts to privatize state parks, officials say.

This year, that attempt can be veiled in Senate Bill 485 – a complex bill that extends private leases from 25 to 50 years, removes all legislative scrutiny, as well as any restrictions on types of facilities. that can be built on state park land.

“They say that’s not the point,” said Sen. David “Bugs” Stover, R-Wyoming. “But, I’m a ‘no’ on that.”

“The bill means that a private contractor could come in and build a casino, a racetrack, an amusement park or anything else on state park property,” Walt Shupe explained. , who recently retired after 33 years in the West Virginia State Park System.

Shupe served as superintendent of Holly River, Watoga and Pipestem Resort State Parks before retiring.

“The state just spent $150 million to upgrade and renovate state parks. State park visitors are probably the most they’ve ever been. State parks are probably earning more than money they never made,” Stover pointed out.

“If this is an attempt to

privatize state parks, why now after spending all that money improving parks?

“People are now staying at the lodges in the park. People come to picnic in state parks now. People stay in campgrounds now. People are enjoying our state parks now.

“I’m not saying private money can’t be used, but why give the parks?” Stover said.

“We believe that the real purpose of this bill is to allow private contractors to operate all revenue-generating facilities, whether existing or new, that they would build, while the state will have to operate all non-revenue-generating operations,” Shupe said.

“Private concession-run parks don’t work,” he noted, adding that the state has tried it before and failed miserably.

At Canaan Valley Resort State Park, after years of privatization, no money has been invested in maintenance.

Once these contractors find that a facility is in trouble, they will no longer invest money in maintenance, Shupe noted.

“They will leave a broken facility,” Shupe explained.

In Canaan Valley, buildings were in such poor condition that they had to be torn down and replaced by the state.

Privatization has not worked at Stonewall Resort. This park has been in default on its millions of dollars in revenue bonds for years.

Private contractors are only interested in revenue-generating facilities at state parks, Shupe noted, they will leave all maintenance and other costs to the state.

“They get all the revenue and take none of the cost.

“And the average West Virginian won’t be able to afford the park.

“If privatization worked, entrepreneurs would build such resorts everywhere.

“Now we’re trying to privatize our state parks again,” Shupe said.

“We’ve invested over $150 million in repairing the parks now and why would we want to hand over the revenue to a private operator for 30 years with the possibility of a 20-year renewal?”

“What will the people of West Virginia think?

“It’s just a pattern here in West Virginia,” Shupe pointed out.

“We get the parks back in good shape and then these private contractors come in and want to get their hands on the profits.”

State parks offer much more than monetary benefits, Stover pointed out, including shared family experiences, improvements in mental and physical health through walking and hiking trails, in addition to the environmental protections provided in parks. .

“Outdoor recreation is the third thing state parks are designed for,” Stover explained. “The first and second objectives are the protection of natural and historic sites.

“West Virginia operates the best state park system in the country. Why would we want to change that?

“Some things are worth protecting, and state parks are worth protecting,” Stover pointed out. “Like I said, I’m a ‘no’ on this.”

Senate Bill 485 was moved from the Senate Natural Resources Committee to the Senate Finance Committee on February 21 with a 6-5 vote.

A similar bill – House Bill 4408 – was before the full House of Delegates last week.