ATLANTA — In the next two years, Georgia’s state, local and national parks will focus on generating funds to cover their own expenses, develop an inventory of recreational assets and publicize the health benefits of outdoor activities, according to the draft of a multiyear plan presented Monday.
The Board of Natural Resources received the draft during its committee meetings and will vote on it at its December meeting. The public will have the opportunity to comment at a hearing Oct. 30.
It’s an update of the current two-year plan approved by the Department of Natural Resources and the federal government, which funds many park projects.
“The biggest change is the reality of the economics of our time, recognizing and understanding how we need to respond to that,” said Becky Kelley, the director of DNR’s parks, recreation and historic places.
Weak tax collections since the recession have led to a state budget that has reduced spending for parks by about half. The department has cut expenses, closed some facilities and sought higher revenues from lodge rentals.
“If you can’t manage the finances, you can’t manage the sustainability of the feature itself,” Kelley said.
The Georgia Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan is the work of DNR, federal wildlife agencies, the National Park Service, local parks directors and the electric utilities that open land to public recreation. The task force that drafted the report doesn’t include any private companies other than Georgia Power, and it doesn’t suggest partnering with the private industry.
Jimi Gisi, the executive director of the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association, said more industry input was gathered in 2008, when the current plan was drafted.
“I don’t think a lot has changed in the recreation environment since 2008,” he said. “It made sense for us for it to be just an update to the 2008 plan.”
The new draft points to an estimate by the Outdoor Industry Association that recreation spending – including shoes, clothes and equipment – in Georgia totals $23.3 billion annually and accounts for more than 200,000 jobs.
The plan argues there are economic and health-related reasons to promote recreation.
“Clearly, the outdoor recreation industry serves a powerful role in local, state and national economies,” report says. “Continuing to provide quality parks and facilities will encourage increased participation and economic vitality.”