Group says Missouri parks face ‘financial crisis’

The state park system has faced funding cuts since the 1980s.
Missouri Parks Association President Susan Flader speaks about the condition of Missouri state parks Wednesday night at the Unitarian Universal Church of Columbia. Flader spoke to increase awareness and funds for MIssouri state parks that are quickly falling into disrepair.

The state’s dim fiscal outlook during the recent economic downturn has forced cuts from many departments, but Susan Flader believes the cuts have caused an even larger “crisis” for the state’s parks.

Flader, a Columbia resident, is the president of the Missouri Parks Association and spoke to the Columbia Audubon Society last week about the need for more state park funding for everything from trail repair to new toilet installation.

She said funding for the parks had come from the federal government, bond issues and donations through the 1970s, but the park systems saw a drop off in the 1980s and a subsequent fall in capital improvements. The MPA formed during the decade to advocate for increased funding.

“This is the thing, the capital improvements, that’s been coming at us for 20 years,” she said.

As their funding has been cut, state parks have also seen less revenue from the state park and soils sales tax. The .05 percent tax has been unable to generate revenue to keep up with infrastructure needs, resulting in a $200 million backlog.

Flader said the MPA is trying to build support for increased park funding through a proposal called the Fifth State Building Fund, a bond issue sponsored by State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, among others. The measure would designate $80-100 million in funding for the parks, about half of the total needed to handle the most critical projects.

Columbians may be receptive to the measure, Flader said, but more fiscally conservative parts of the state might not be.

“It’s up to the people," she said. "That’s why we’re talking to citizen groups. We have to reach out to those other parts of the state.”

The money would cover repairs to recreation facilities, dams, trails, roads, buildings, electrical systems and the Katy Trail.

Flader said that funding such projects could help the state’s economic recovery because the Missouri Department of Natural Resources could hire new workers specifically for those jobs, which require little training.

“These things are jobs,” she said. “These projects are designed and ready to go.”

She said the federal government could even pay 35 percent of interest on the bonds through its Build America Bonds program, potentially saving the state money on the projects.

The Audubon Society also voted to donate $100 to the Friends of Columbia Parks Committee, which supports renewal of a city-level parks tax, which is on the ballot for the November elections.

Society member Meredith Donaldson said she advocated the measure’s passage because, if renewed, it would finance the same projects that need to be funded in state parks.

“It’s very similar to what we have on the state level,” she said. “You need to do capital improvements. The public does not really understand what a treasure we have here.”

Audubon Society Conservation Chairman David Bedan said the group may hold events on the MU campus to inform students about the benefits of renewing the tax because many students use the parks.

“We definitely need to get the student vote out,” he said.

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