This coming weekend is Labor Day, the last big holiday of the tourist season. On Monday, many of the state campgrounds in the area will be closing, and elsewhere in the state, various parks will be closing down facilities, laying off seasonal workers, and reverting to “off-season” tasks. It’s a routine – a rhythm, if you will – that has been going on for over 90 years. Normally, the off-season is used to repair the damage done over the summer, finish up those projects that were delayed or difficult to do when the park was full of people, and get ready for next year.
The problem is that this year was not normal, and it doesn’t look like normal is going to make a return. You see, this year a large number of state parks were slated for closure. It was only at the last minute, after massive public outcry, that the parks were “saved” and reopened. This year. Next year? No one knows. Which is why “normal” is not going to make a return. One of the things people say to the staff when they’re leaving a park is “see you next year.” There may not be a next year for many of the parks and campgrounds. While the legislature and Governor scrambled to find a way to get the parks opened this year, they really did nothing for the long-term. It was a short-term patch.
That’s the problem we should be thinking about now – next year. Last year was not an anomaly, it’s something that looks to become an annual ritual. Budget woes will cause the Governor to announce closures, the public will raise a fuss, and the (usually) late budget battles will see legislators scrambling to come up with some method of coming up with operating funds, punting the problem down the road for another year.
The problems the parks face will remain. Deteriorating infrastructure. Demoralized staffs, uncertain about their future. Local businesses and governments unsure of whether this year will be the one where an economic linchpin is removed. I don’t expect much change in the next year, but we do need to think about the future. If the furor this year demonstrated anything, it’s that people of all political persuasions love the parks. Now we just have to figure out how to keep them going, and remove the uncertainty.