Nashville --In pursuit of false economies, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has systematically dismantled the state park system, according to a white paper authored by current and former parks employees and released today by the Tennessee chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The white paper, entitled No Walk in the Park , documents how well publicized park closures have produced no real savings, reduced state revenue, and deferred long-term costs to future taxpayers while disrupting park operation, inconveniencing the public, and seriously damaging the long-term viability of the Tennessee Parks system. The paper describes the drive by TDEC Commissioner Milton Hamilton and his staff to remake Tennessee State Parks into profit-making resorts as a mismanaged failure.
The white paper explains why the supposed benefits from the administration's approach of "parks as profit centers" are proving largely illusory. The real costs of resort operation are not counted and other unanticipated costs are being incurred:
- The federal government has withheld at least $715,000 from the state because the closures violate agreements with the National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Fund;
- Privately-run golf courses at state parks are not meeting debt payment schedules; and
- Public patronage revenue and donations are declining.
"TDEC's current emphasis on profits over preservation, net revenue above nature, and privatization of public resources is a dramatic and misguided departure from the historic mission of Tennessee Parks," stated Tennessee PEER Director Barry Sulkin, a former TDEC employee. "Our principal recommendation is to create a dedicated structure for Tennessee Parks headed by real professionals."
The paper also cites losses from cuts in central support. The Trail Maintenance Crew, the Film Loan Library, Program Services, Exhibits and the Parks Surveyor have all been cut. Elimination of area support offices means that each park must now function without needed services. Consequently, Tennessee Parks is no longer a coherent organization.