State Parks Turn to Public-Private Partnerships to Weather Budget Cuts
By Shari Boyer Summer is in full swing and visitation at state parks across the country is at an all-time high, with parks seeing significant increases in day-use visits. There are over 7,500 state parks in the United States, which receive 740,000,000 visits per year where Americans run, hike, bike, boat, camp, surf, swim, picnic and just hang out with their families. Our research shows these visitors are primarily active, environmentally aware and passionate about their parks by visiting multiple times each year. Yet as the state parks systems open their gates to millions of visitors, deep budget cuts threaten maintenance, conservation and sustainability at many of these parks. State Parks and the Private Sector So what are the options for state parks? Many parks are actively looking to the private sector to help them bridge funding gaps and create value added visitor programs which have suffered as parks focus their shrinking budgets on operations, and are finding these partnerships to be a win-win for the visitors, park system and the companies who step up to support our public lands. Here are a few examples. Nationally, Odwalla has donated trees to state park systems with its “Plant a Tree Program,” (www.odwalla.com/plantatree) launched in 2008. Last year, “Plant a Tree” expanded to reach all 50 states, and by the end of 2011 Odwalla will have donated $450,000 worth of trees. California State Parks, which has the highest number of visitors of any state park system, has been especially hard-hit with budget reductions over the past few years, and will suffer further hits in the future. California State Park management began reaching out to the private sector to help maintain important programs that otherwise would have been eliminated. This year alone, Southern California partnership campaigns have launched with Coca-Cola, Honest Tea, Farmer John and several grocery stores, including Stater Bros., Vons and Ralph’s. One of our strongest programs is “Preserve Our Parks” (www.preserveourparks.com) which brings together Coca-Cola and Stater Bros. Supermarkets. In its third year, the campaign has generated nearly $2 million for California State Parks and Beaches. “Preserve our Parks” is a perfect example of successful public-private sponsorship, because it combines corporate involvement, a state parks system and the general public. State Parks: Looking to the Future In fact, a growing number of consumers say they like companies that support important causes, such as programs that protect our natural resources. When motivated, these consumers show their approval with their buying decisions. Public-private partnerships can also motivate people across the country to become more involved in nature and the state park system. Consumers can start by visiting state parks, volunteering their services for park and beach clean-up events, supporting state park legislation, and, of course, supporting public-private partnerships. Nature is our most precious resource, and as a society we must provide adequate stewardship to protect it. Our state parks – with all their natural beauty and historical significance -- are important for both today’s citizens and the generations to come. Special Thanks to Meg Aldrich of Talk Communications for arranging this contribution.