JBC rethinks state parks closures
Special to the Post Independent
State budget-slicing that would force the closure of Harvey Gap State Park will be reconsidered as soon as today, says the chairman of the state Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.
Two weeks ago, the JBC recommended cutting the fund that supports the parks.
After that recommendation, the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation said 10 state parks that run at a deficit, including Harvey Gap, Paonia, Crawford, and Sweitzer state parks on the Western Slope, would have to be shut down.
Others, including Vega State Park on Grand Mesa, would face partial closures.
After that revelation, JBC members decided to reconsider. The committee will revisit the issue and make a new recommendation for the parks budget, probably today.
Rep. Brad Young, R-Lamar, who chairs the three-person JBC, told the Post Independent Tuesday that the committee’s members weren’t told the cut they recommended would result in the full closure of any parks. He said the JBC was misinformed by the Division of Parks.
“They told us there would be some parks that closed two or three days a week,” Young said. “But we weren’t told there would be parks that would close entirely.”
Legislative staffers gave the JBC four options regarding the budget for parks, Young said. The members voted for a cut of $2.9 million.
“That was about a 10 percent cut to Parks’ overall budget,” Young said.
Governor promised to veto park closures
When the news got out that some parks would close, Gov. Bill Owens got into the act.
Dan Hopkins, the governor’s press secretary, said the governor promised Friday to veto any measure that resulted in the closure of state parks.
“He’d use the line-item veto on that part of the budget bill,” Hopkins said.
He said the governor’s office hopes the cuts recommended by the JBC will not go forward.
“The governor doesn’t think there are any parks that would be OK to close,” Hopkins said.
Young said he’s not certain why using the line-item veto would appropriate, because, instead of restoring the budget for parks, it would eliminate it entirely.
“[That] is really strange,” Young said, “because that would zero out this part of the budget.”
Young said being on the Joint Budget Committee has been tough, as the declining economy has driven down tax revenues over the past two years.
“It’s been a very trying time, trying to come up with ways to keep programs from being really hurt.”
“Closing parks makes no sense”
Marianne Virgili, director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, said there has to be a better way to balance the budget than closing state parks.
“I feel that Colorado’s economy is pretty fragile right now,” Virgili said. Tourism, she pointed out, is the second largest industry in the state.
“Closing parks would make no sense,” she said. “Parks are a source of revenue, and that would have a negative effect on the state’s coffers.”
Some Rifle residents, alarmed at the news of possible closures, have started a petition drive to show support for keeping Harvey Gap State Park open. A letter from the Kum and Go Store No. 922 staff, written by Heather Hock, contains the following comments.
“Harvey Gap closing! What are they thinking? Budget cuts? We are outraged! We as citizens have a right and a voice to protest these cuts.We have limited recreation as it is, and they want to take away more?”
Hock and co-worker Raelene Middelstadt are coordinating the petition drive at Kum and Go stores and Tim’s Tools in Rifle and Silt.
Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. 534
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