In the face of severe budget problems, parks and recreation are often the first state services to be hit by the budget ax. In order to cut costs, state parks and recreation departments increasingly are looking to privatization options for parks and recreation such as load shedding, contracting out, making greater use of volunteers, leases, and outright sales.
Contracting out park functions potentially allows states to lower costs and have a greater degree of flexibility in service levels during peak and down tourist seasons. It also makes it easier to "load shed" or eliminate state provision of the service altogether at a future date, if necessary. A number of park services can be contracted out, including:
Maintenance (for example of roads, grounds, and cabins);
Management and operation of an entire park or park system; and
Food and recreational operations.
Substantially increasing the use of volunteers can also cut costs without sacrificing services. States can save money by making greater use of volunteers for park maintenance, tours, and recreational services. Examples of statewide park volunteers groups include: Outdoor Washington, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, and the Tahoe Rim Trail Club in Nevada.
Some state parks and recreational services could also be considered candidates for leases or asset sales. At least eleven states lease historic landmarks to nonprofits and individuals. Parks can also be sold or given free of charge to conservation foundations, thereby removing an operating expense from the state balance sheet and, at the same time, ensuring the park's preservation.
Many recreational services provided by states directly compete against private firms. State provision of these services could be discontinued. If necessary, some of these services, if they cannot be operated by private firms at a profit, can be subsidized with taxpayer or voluntary contributions.