LETTER: Addressing public safety and maintenance issues in Virginia State Parks

Published 11:00 am Friday, June 14, 2024

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Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my concerns about public safety and the overall maintenance of Virginia State Parks. As attendance has increased significantly in recent years, with more than 10 million visitors annually, funding for staffing, operations, and maintenance has remained flat. This situation threatens the well-being of our community members and the sustainability of our beloved parks.

The Virginia Association for Parks reports that nearly 57% of the Virginia State Parks budget is generated from visitor fees and revenue. However, this amount is not enough to maintain affordable and accessible parks for all Virginians. State parks are operating with almost half the recommended number of full-time staff, and essential roles are being filled by hourly wage employees who do not receive the benefits associated with full-time positions. This situation makes it difficult to attract and retain high-quality applicants.

The Virginia Association for Parks has proposed several solutions that are the best course of action to address these issues. They recommend allocating $27 million to fill 254 positions, including salaries, benefits, insurance, and support services, ensuring better management and protection of park resources and facilities. Additionally, they propose providing $9.1 million to address rising costs of basic operating necessities like wages, utilities, supplies, and materials to prevent further neglect of facilities and services. An investment of $7.25 million in modern, alternative energy vehicles and necessary equipment for maintenance and operations is also essential. Moreover, allocating $5 million for minor, critical repairs to aging facilities, park infrastructure, and equipment will help prevent minor problems from becoming extensive and costly. Ensuring stable funding of $623,000 for the Youth Conservation Corps program is crucial for continuing its valuable work in environmental stewardship, youth achievement, and community service. Finally, providing $1.2 million for sustainable trail development and habitat preservation for declining pollinator populations, migratory songbirds, and other species is necessary.

I urge the local government and community leaders to take immediate action to secure additional funding for Virginia State Parks. These green spaces are vital for our community’s health and well-being, and we must ensure they remain safe, well-maintained, and enjoyable for everyone.

Logan McGhee