PROJECTIONS for PARKS and RECREATION
by John D. Cherry, Regional Director, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, Lake Central Region, Ann Arbor, Michigan
(This article was a presentation at the Great Lakes Park Training Institute.)
During the summer of 1973, who would have said America would be plunged into an energy crisis. When the crisis was most intense, during the winter and spring, who could have predicted life would be back to business-as-usual the following year.
It has been said many, many times, and it bears repeating now—it is a certainty that our land and water resources are shrinking as our population increases. There is a need for better use of our facilities, which will mean more intensive use in many cases, and greater efficiency. There is going to have to be much better cooperation between the programs of the recreation agencies, the schools, and the agencies charged with responsibility of cleaning up our water and air.
Conflict between recreation users will become more critical as the years go by. This will be particularly true between those participating in the traditional recreation activities and those participating in recreation involving motorized vehicles.
The pressure to provide more opportunities for motorized vehicles comes from the industry and localities as well as the users. Economics is a big factor. For example in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan during the 1973-1974 winter the average expenditure per snowmobile day was $18.20. There are three million snowmobiles in the United States and Canada. The annual sales of snowmobile parts and services exceed $1.25 billion, which provides employment for about 100,000 people.
Off-road vehicle use of our public lands is increasing at a tremendous rate. The use of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles occurs primarily in the summer season or during what we would normally consider to be the recreation season for hiking, camping, and picnicking.
We know that there can be severe conflicts between motorized and nonmotorized recreation users. The solution would appear to be a concerted effort to delineate separate facilities for as many users as the lands will accommodate without environmental deterioration.
There is enormous pressure on the States and Federal Government to put more resources into urban park and recreation programs. The newest generation of State outdoor recreation plans are reacting to this by guiding more and more of the States' Land and Water Conservation Fund grants to heavily populated regions. At the Federal level, the Congress and the Department of the Interior are being deluged with proposals for establishment of new national parks and recreation areas, many of which would be located near urban centers. Because of the economic situation, cities and States are looking more and more to the Federal Government for assistance. At the same time, the Federal Government is trying desperately to gain control of the recessionary/inflationary spiral through selective spending and budget restrictions.
This dilemma received a good airing at the National Symposium on Urban Recreation held in 1975. The following are some of the issues which were discussed.
Most of the really unique and outstanding park resources of the nation are already in the national system or are in the process of being acquired. Consequently future additions to the national system mean focusing on areas which have less quality. The Federal Government is reluctant to jeopardize the standard of quality of the national park system by launching into what has to be considered a natural environment restoration program. In addition the Administration believes that the States and localities should be responsible for managing essentially local or regional facilities. Finally, the backlog of already authorized Federal areas will completely utilize the Federal share of money available under the Land and Water Conservation Fund for years to come.
To meet some of the Federal objections to direct Federal management of urban parks, Senator J. Bennet Johnston has surfaced a new idea called the "Green Line Parks" approach. Under this proposal an Act of Congress would be passed for a particular area, making available a set amount of money. This money would be used first to help set up a local planning commission to prepare a plan for the area. Acquisition and development then would be accomplished by the State and localities with Federal assistance. Some of the money would be used to assist in the planning effort, and once the plans were approved by the Secretary of the Interior grants would be made
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available to the State and localities to actually acquire and develop the area. The long term cost would be considerably less to the Federal Government. At the same time, the area would be managed by the State and/or local authorities rather than the Federal Government.
Acquiring land for a new park is one thing; running a city recreation program is a different matter. While the city program often includes the administration of park areas, the critical problems involve the need for staff, training, equipment, transportation, and maintenance. City park and recreation budgets are generally prepared as a part of the overall budget of the city. When hard times hit, the first programs to go are those involving recreation. Recreation competes with garbage collection, police and fire protection, etc.
It is true that existing Federal programs provide support for city parks and recreation. Land Water Conservation funds, Community Development block grants, and General Revenue Sharing funds are used to acquire and develop areas and facilities. Funds made available under revenue sharing and through the Departments of Labor; Justice; Health, Education and Welfare; and the Office of Economic Opportunity support recreation programs. However, except for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a few special situations, recreation is a peripheral beneficiary of Federal funding in the cities.
Assistance from the Land and Water Conservation Fund is increasingly used by the States to fund city projects. But you have to put this in perspective—the Land and Water Conservation Fund program accounts for only 3.5 percent of the total State and local recreation expenditures. The Fund does not provide money for operation and maintenance or for the acquisition of equipment; nor does it allow funds to be used for indoor recreation facilities.
A suggestion has been made to levy a Federal excise tax on recreation equipment. The moneys collected would then be apportioned to the States and communities by appropriate formula. A precedent for this has been established in the wildlife and fish restoration programs administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Here, there is an excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment which is then made available through the Fish and Wildlife Service in grants to the States for fish and wildlife programs.
My advice is, "Don't count on a big influx of Federal dollars in the near future." There are other untapped resources you can bring into your recreation programs. That is, if you keep your eyes open and you are eager to explore new ways.
I am talking about individuals, groups, and corporations which would be delighted to help out if given the opportunity. One of the biggest problems the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation faces in its technical assistance program is finding worthwhile proposals.
The St. Joseph Minerals Corporation donated 8,500 acres valued at $2 million in St. Frances County, Missouri, to the State Department of Natural Resources to be used as a new State park.
The Moody Foundation donated $200,000 to the County of Galveston, Texas, to purchase 96 acres for recreational purposes.
Approximately 400 acres in the Towns of Lancaster, Harvard, and Boston, Massachusetts, were saved and sold to the State Fish and Game Agency at a bargain price of $40,000 less than the fair market value.
The Northern Indiana Public Service Company leased ten miles of power line right-of-way at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for a bikeway.
The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company leased six miles of corridor in Sumit and Cuyahoga Counties to the Cleveland Metropolitan District for a bike trail.
The Wisconsin Electric Power Company leased six miles of right-of-way to the Racine County Highway and Park Commission for trail purposes.
Numerous railroads have gone out of business over the past half century and other rail lines will be abandoned under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. Many of these would make ideal trail corridors for bikers, hikers, snowmobilers, and horseback riders. We have been providing a service to State and local governments by identifying abandoned or soon to be abandoned railroads which have trail potential. The 30-mile Elroy-Sparta Trail and 23-mile Sugar River Trail in Wisconsin and the 30-mile Illinois Prairie Path in suburban Chicago are excellent examples of conversion of abandoned rail lines to public trail use. These trails have also been included in the National Trails System.
One other program of national importance deserves mention. Some of you may have heard the expression, "Regional planning is a 24-inch sewer pipe." I am referring to the massive planning and construction program that is going on throughout the country to clean up our waterways. This effort, costing nearly $2 billion a year in Federal
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PROJECTIONS ON PARKS ...
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assistance alone, has great significance to the park and recreation profession. As water quality improves, so will the value of adjacent lands. There will be strong competition for the use of these lands for residences and business as well as recreation. Also, the water treatment facilities and pipeline rights-of-way can be planned for multiple-purpose use. Buried pipelines can provide excellent trail opportunities along rivers and streams. Water and sewer treatment facilities can be constructed to accommodate recreation use.
Areawide planning agencies are being established throughout the nation in response to Federal and State water pollution control legislation. It's vital that the interest of your park and recreation agencies be considered in that planning.
Our land and water resources are becoming more limited as the population expands. We need to make better use of our existing recreation facilities. There will have to be better coordination and cooperation among agencies. Conflict between recreation uses on our public lands will increase. We must serve as many of these competing uses as possible while maintaining a pleasing and productive environment.
Pressure is mounting for more Federal aid to the cities for park and recreation programs. A number of proposals have been suggested to accomplish this. Although it is likely we will see improvement in the delivery of Federal dollars and services, it is unlikely that there will be a great increase in assistance in the near future.
There are other sources of help for park and recreation programs which all of us will have to explore. There is certainly much to be accomplished and plenty of challenge. By the year 2176, I am sure the park and recreation profession will be deeply involved in programs and projects we can only dream about today.
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