South Carolina’s state parks are moving to become self-supporting after a year in which they generated a record $21 million in revenue.
According to an Associated Press report, State Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Duane Parrish says the goal now is to have the parks self-sustaining in just over 18 months, the end of the upcoming state fiscal year.
“We came close this year. We had our highest revenue ever. We should reach operational self-sufficiency by the end of 2013-14,” he said after the announcement that readers of Conde Naste Traveler Magazine had voted Charleston the top tourist town in the world.
The state’s system of 47 parks comprising 80,000 acres has been working to pay its own way and had originally set a goal of becoming self-sufficient by the end of the calendar year 2013.
“It was a goal. It was a target and we’ll keep running as fast as we can to get to it,” Parrish said.
The parks cost about $24 million a year to operate.
To reach its goal, among other things, the parks system has raised its rates for cabins and campgrounds to make them more in line with private attractions. The parks are also adding events, such as the fireworks last July 4 at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, the location where South Carolina was founded.
“We think we have the ability to do some things other places can’t do and we can offer them for a competitive price that really doesn’t have any additional costs for us,” he said.
The state is also developing its first-ever guidebook for the parks. Parrish said the new book is being underwritten by BMW and Fuji film, both of which have major manufacturing plants in the state.
Parrish said that only state park systems in New Hampshire and Vermont currently pay their own way and both of those systems have ski resorts which generate revenue.
After a yearlong review, South Carolina’s 47 state parks will remain within the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism with a goal of making park operations pay for themselves by the end of next year, The Associated Press reported.
When Gov. Nikki Haley took office last year, she asked for a review of the parks system with an eye toward whether the parks might be more efficiently administered by the state Department of Natural Resources.
After traveling from the mountains to the sea visiting all the state’s parks, PRT Director Duane Parrish recently presented the governor with a report on the status of the park system. The park system began during the Great Depression with 15 parks carved out of the wild by workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The study was conducted with the help of outside researchers. It found that last year, there were 8 million visitor days at the parks – one person visiting for one day – generating nearly $20 million in revenue. Nearly 400,000 visitors stayed overnight at a park.
The 80,000-acre state park system features 3,000 campsites, 144 cabins, 80 hotel rooms, two golf courses and more than 300 miles of hiking and riding trails.
The report makes four main recommendations:
• That state parks remain under PRT to better market and develop the parks.
• That steps be taken so park operations, which last year cost about $24 million to operate, are self-sufficient by the end of 2013.
• That deferred maintenance needs be prioritized and other sources of money be found to pay for such maintenance.
• That revenue bonds be considered for capital projects, such as water attractions at state parks that will produce additional revenue.
“Gov. Haley is encouraged to see that director Parrish and his team have developed a plan to get our state parks out of the red and off of taxpayer funds by 2013,” said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Haley.
Currently, about 83% of the money needed to operate the state’s parks is generated through admission fees, retail sales, programs and special events. In the Southeast, only Alabama does better in generating a higher percentage of the revenue at about 89%.
Parrish said that to become self-sufficient, the parks need to generate an additional $4 million in revenue. He said that can be done by the end of next year.