Volume 12, Issue 24 ~ June 10-16, 2004
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Our Pay-As-You-Go Parks
A recent study about national parks — and our own visit to Maryland’s Sandy Point State Park — has us a bit irritated over who is paying for our parks and who isn’t.

If you’re like us, come early summer and you cannot keep away from parks. After Sonia Linebaugh’s Memorial Day feature on parks (Vol. XII, No. 22), we’ve been out picnicking

With everybody so doggone busy and air travel too expensive or scary, more of us look to parks for quick getaways and even as our vacations.

That’s why what we’re hearing and seeing has us troubled.

Two weeks ago, the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees issued a study saying that many of our national parks, among them Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia, are suffering from a combination of cuts in budget, staff and services.

The report of this non-political group contradicted recent claims from the Bush administration, which insisted that the nation’s parks wouldn’t be suffering as a result of other spending priorities.

But it was our recent visit to Sandy Point that brought home the issue of funding of our parks.

Maybe it was because we hadn’t been there for a spell, but we were surprised at the entrance fee: $5. That’s $5 per person, not per vehicle. And that’s a 25-percent increase over last year.

We noticed a double-take by the driver with the kid-packed wagon in front of us. When you get whacked with a $30 or $35 entrance fee on top of hot dogs, beverages and maybe an outdoor toy or two, you’re talking about a hunk of a paycheck.

Chalk it up to another increase in a “user fee,” the euphemism in government of those who promise not to raise our taxes. Naturally, the biggest users are people who can’t afford sprawling private yards.

It occurred to us too late to advise the family in front of us to motor down to Calvert Cliffs State Park, where volunteers keep a fine park humming for the cost of $3 per car. (Of course, they don’t mind if you want to give more.)

Our lesson at Sandy Point wasn’t over. It seemed odd to us that a vast swath of the park, the East Beach Shelter Area, was closed to the public. After being given confusing directions, we hiked to a playground for our picnic. But swiftly a truck drove up, and we were informed that we had to get out because we hadn’t paid money to sit beneath a shelter at this particular picnic site.

How much? It would cost $280 to rent the Cottontail shelter with its swell cooking area and playground.

Nobody had written the check, but this public-owned facility was off-limits.

With the feds letting parks deteriorate and the state socking people at Sandy Point, we had to wonder if the anti-public lands crowd is winning. They believe in privatization of parks and spending as few tax dollars as possible on recreation.

At Sandy Point, tax money certainly wasn’t stinted on police patrols (we watched three vehicles circling). Were there reports of shady characters on the loose?

We had to wonder, too, about the necessity of that speed trap. Another revenue producer? A fat speeding ticket on top of getting gouged at the gate sounds like rain on a picnic.

We didn’t get nailed, but we did make one more mistake: stopping by the portable toilets. Unfortunately, their conditions resembled ones we’ve used in rural Guatemala.

Now if they had pay toilets …

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.