The dire economy could make it harder to enjoy the great outdoors.
From Nevada to New York, state parks across the country are facing budget cuts -- in some cases steep ones -- just as they are anticipating another busy season. Officials in several states say there will be less money to employ workers to clear trail brush or repair footpaths. Restrooms will be shuttered. Some lakes and pools will be closed weekdays, or altogether. Some parks will have shorter seasons or curtailed hours, or bar the public from eating at certain picnic areas or sunbathing on certain beaches.
The economic downturn has led to lower tax revenues for most states, and federal stimulus money can't be used to patch holes in state operating budgets.
"It's rare if a state is not having pretty serious problems," said Philip K. McKnelly, the executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors. He said many states expect their parks budgets will be cut 10% to 15% from the year before.
The hits to state parks are unfolding a year after skyrocketing gas prices kept people close to home, leading to a record number of visitors at state trails, lakes and pools. This year, while gas prices are expected to be lower, families that are nervous about job losses and conserving money are expected to flock to state parks, where a day's outing is typically far cheaper than one at a private amusement park.