Budget Cuts Put State Parks In Jeopardy

BERLIN – Pocomoke River State Park will be closed if the state budget cuts proposed are confirmed.

The Pocomoke River Park, near Snow Hill, will be one of eight state parks across Maryland to close if the special session of the Maryland General Assembly does not find another way to make up the budget shortfall.

Budgets cuts could cost the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Planning, and Environment a total of $169 million. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) could lose $157 million alone.

The permanent workforce of those agencies would see a 10-percent reduction, meaning 313 workers would lose their jobs, to save $10.7 million.

Program Open Space (POS) funds, $141 million, would be diverted, eliminating the program entirely. No new land could be purchased for recreation or parkland.

All transfer tax revenues, which include POS money, could be diverted to the Maryland General Fund, reducing open space funding.

Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts would also take a hit, as would waterway improvements, waterway access, and navigation projects.

Rural Legacy funds, used to purchase conservation easements on farmland, would also be siphoned off.

State parks would also see facility renovation and replacement frozen, saving $2.2 million. Activities would be halted or reduced at other state parks to save money. Appalachian Trail service and maintenance would be eliminated, as would the Maryland Conservation Corps program.

Law enforcement patrols in state parks, fisheries and wildlife areas would be reduced by 10 percent, and three warm water fish hatcheries would be closed. Technology upgrades, worth $3 million, would also be halted.

All financial support for wildlife rehabilitators would be eliminated under this scheme.

The so-called “Bay Cabinet” held a briefing in Annapolis last Friday on environmental impacts of the proposed budget cuts.

“Without action, reductions across the board for our already stressed environmental regulatory system will occur, reductions in enforcement and efforts to control air, water and waste pollution,” said Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Secretary Shari T. Wilson.

DNR Secretary John R. Griffin added, “Failure to invest in Maryland will result in failure to protect and restore our natural resources. The cost of delaying budget solutions would be devastating to Maryland’s environment and local communities.”

Chris Clarke, recreation supervisor for Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department, is concerned that the cuts, if passed, could affect local parks and recreation facilities projects.

POS funding has paid in large part for several big projects in Ocean City, from playgrounds to building additions, such as the west gym at Northside Park.

“That huge addition we put on the [Northside Park] facility is almost totally funded by the program,” Clarke said. “We added the bridge that crosses the lagoon. It was 80 percent paid for by Program Open Space.”

Clarke said that the playgrounds in town would never have been built without POS funds.

“It makes it so much easier to get done when you don’t put the burden totally on the taxpayers,” he said. “It’s been huge for us through the years.”

Griffin said much will be lost if the proposed budgets cuts are okayed.

“Every acre that we fail to protect from development and dollar that we fail to invest will result in lost opportunities for Marylanders to enjoy outdoor recreation experiences including hunting, fishing, wildlife watching and hiking,” Griffin said.