Park visitors may notice some cutbacks as state, local entities cope with economy

Jon Peacock, new Mesa County Administrator

There’s nothing like the great outdoors, but as the economy struggles, Mother Nature may grow a little wilder.

Amenities at parks such as trails, bathrooms and park staff are supported by taxpayer dollars.

As those dollars become fewer, governmental agencies such as Colorado state parks are cutting services, and Mesa County may cut back, too.

Conversely, the city of Grand Junction anticipates greater use of its recreational facilities and greater revenues as residents seek inexpensive activities close to home.

The state is being hit hardest, with an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall in its budget.

“We are in our current fiscal year that ends in June. Last month, I was told to save 5 percent for the first of this fiscal year and plan for another 10 percent, at a minimum, that we would not receive,” said Brad Taylor, manager of James M. Robb Colorado River State Park.

“All state agencies are facing the shortfall.”

Visitors to state parks may notice fewer staff members on hand, bathrooms that are not cleaned daily and reduced hours at park offices and visitor centers, Taylor said.

Taylor said state parks will focus on maintenance in 2009.

“We are going to preserve our investments,” he said.

But the local parks may well become this summer’s hot spots, Taylor said, noting that when gas prices were at their peak, income from park fees remained steady.

Rob Schoeber, director of parks and recreation for Grand Junction anticipates more use of local facilities this summer but no real reduction in services, despite the city cutting $6 million from its 2009 budget.

“What we are thinking is we will see a real push for local recreation,” he said.

A couple projects — a sidewalk at Lincoln Park and cemetery repairs — have been delayed to take advantage of a more competitive bidding environment, he said.

Also, the city raised golf fees this year, but it has not slowed the woods and irons from being swung.

“Tee times are full, and we are thinking very positively about that,” he said.

Mesa County, on the other hand, is preparing for the possibility of a shriveling summertime economy.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Jon Peacock, Mesa County administrator.

“We are doing contingency planning, and we are constantly evaluating our revenues.”

All department heads — including parks and recreation — have been asked by Peacock to have a list of items ready that could be cut if the budget turns south in the coming months.

The Bureau of Land Management does not foresee any adjustments,spokesman David Boyd said.

The BLM benefited in 2008 from volunteers donating 172,354 hours of work, equivalent to the work of 82 full-time employees in one year.


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