"We have to become more entrepreneurial," said DNR Commissioner Chris Clark. "We feel, with all the interest from the corporate sector in cause marketing and green marketing, that there might be more opportunity out there for private money."
The state park system, he said, hosts about 10.3 million visitors each year, yet the DNR's budget has continued to shrink.
"If you compare fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2011, it is right at a 40-percent decrease," he said. "At the same time, we've lost about a third of the federal money we used to get, and we've lost about 24 percent of the revenue we used to get from our parks."
The department is evaluating applicants who responded to a request for proposals that closed last week.
"What we have asked for is a partner who specializes in cause marketing-to develop a plan to identify potential companies who might want to partner with us," he said.
Many volunteer groups and corporations already help the parks through programs the state hopes to expand.
"Last year, Coca Cola and Verizon sponsored a free park day in September," he said. "And in south Georgia, Home Depot is donating materials and staff to rebuild boardwalks at Reed Bingham State Park."
Companies willing to help would get valuable recognition in return, including the use of the company's name on placards and for special events.
The department, however, cannot rename parks for sponsors. "We would not change the name of a state park, nor do we have the ability; it would take an act of the General Assembly."
In addition to seeking a partnership consultant, the General Assembly is also mulling the creation of a non-profit foundation for the department.
The advantage, Clark said, is that it would offer DNR the opportunity to reach out to private foundations that offer grants for educational programming. "Right now, they cannot give money to a state agency-just to foundations."
The bill, if passed, would establish a 501(c)(3) foundation whose mission would include maintaining programs at the department's 10 environmental education centers, including the McDuffie Environmental Education Center in Dearing.
Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org