Stagecoach park faces closures | SteamboatToday.com

Stagecoach park faces closures

Budget cuts could mean fewer operating days for state park

The governor’s chief economist asked the state Legislature on Monday to reverse $2.9 million in budget cuts that would force Stagecoach State Park in South Routt County to close two or three days per week this summer.

“We request that you restore some, if not all, of the general fund (cuts for state parks),” Nancy McCallin, executive director of the Office of State Planning and Budget said Monday. She was appearing before the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado General Assembly.

Gov. Bill Owens already has promised to veto any plan to close state parks. The proposed cuts would not affect Steamboat Lake and Pearl Lake state parks in North Routt County.

State Rep. Brad Young, chairman of the JBC, said the committee would deliberate for two or three days before making recommendations to the full Legislature on more than 15 requests from McCallin to restore funding to various programs.

McCallin reminded the members of the JBC that visitors to state parks spend an estimated $200 million annually in nearby towns. Stagecoach attracted 135,000 visitors in 2003.

The Legislature needs to make $610 million in cuts over the next three years to balance the state’s budget. As part of that effort, the JBC voted March 1 to cut the state’s contribution to the parks’ $21.4 million budget from $6 million to $2.9 million. The balance of the park’s budget is supplied by fees and lottery proceeds. The latter can be used for land acquisition but cannot be expended on operating budgets.

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State parks chief Lyle Laverty responded to the proposed cuts with a list of 10 parks that would be closed by July. A dozen more, Stagecoach among them, would see their hours of operation trimmed by two or three days a week.

Ken De Paul, president of the South Routt Economic Development Council, said closing Stagecoach for even a couple of weekdays would be a blow to businesses in nearby towns.

“We need every day, and we need every dollar that can be generated,” De Paul said. He said the availability of showers in the state park’s campground makes it convenient for campers to clean up and go to Oak Creek or Yampa for a restaurant meal. Midweek closures would deter the campers who stay the longest and spend the most money, he added.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, who represents South Routt, found irony in the possibility that state government would consider closing state parks at the same time it is looking for ways to boost Colorado’s tourism industry.

“We’re looking at closing some of the resources that they come to see,” Stahoviak said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

JBC members told McCallin they felt blindsided by the release of the plan to close 10 parks, including popular Front Range fishing destinations Barr Lake and Spinney Mountain Reservoir. State Rep. John Witwer, who represents Jefferson County, said the state parks department had led the committee members to believe it could absorb the 50 percent reduction in the state’s contribution to its budget by relying solely on reducing the days of operation of some of the 40 parks in the system.

McCallin said she could understand why the committee members were taken by surprise but added that there was no intent to mislead.

— To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com