The following is an in-depth look at the shifting relationship between the nation’s state parks and private sector parks. It is the second in a series authored by Steve Bibler, editor for Woodalls Campground Management.
The ever-changing face of the nation’s financially pressed state parks took on a few new wrinkles this summer with the most dramatic impact in Florida, where controversy erupted over the state of Florida’s announced plans to expand camping into some of the state’s favorite parks, and Minnesota, where a startling budget crisis prompted the shutdown of state government and all of the Gopher State’s state-run parks for a time this summer.
And while states like Maine, Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado made some news as well, opening privately run campgrounds in state parks certainly turned out to be a hot-button issue in Florida. “Not a good idea,” said hundreds of indignant citizens.
Responding to the public outcry, Florida Gov. Rick Scott put the kibosh on plans to consider bringing concessionaire-operated, RV-friendly campgrounds to Honeymoon Island State Park and ordered further analysis of the state proposal overall.
The move encouraged many members of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (Florida ARVC), which had lobbied the governor against the plan.
“I think it’s the right move,” said association Executive Director Bobby Cornwell. “Not to say it won’t happen, but it will go through a more stringent review process. We’re pleased with the additional review and the possibility it may not happen at all.”
“The mass of the people won this one,” Cornwell said, conceding that Florida ARVC was just one of many voices united in “unparalleled and unexpected opposition” to the plan. Hearings were held on plans at four state parks. Cornwell submitted verbal or written opposition at each one.
As for the future, Cornwell is uncertain how this summer’s bru-ha-ha will affect relations between his association and the state. “I don’t know how it will affect that relationship. I hope we still have an open relationship and work together when we can. Hopefully, it will be status quo and we can co-exist.”
The message, according to Cornwell, is that state parks “don’t need to expand too quickly where it could hurt the private sector. If they do (build campgrounds), they should make sure it’s more rustic in nature, primitive tent camping. That would be great because it gets more people camping and gradually moving up to RVs.”
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