Economic Development and a Walk in the Park

Economic Development and a Walk in the Park - October 28, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

            President Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children.”

            While Roosevelt is often assumed to have founded U.S. Park Service, Yellowstone, out first national park, was designated by President Ulysses S. Grant, in 1872, when Teddy Roosevelt was just fourteen years old and nearly 30 years before he would become President.

            Frequently, there are philosophical and rhetorical discussions about the wisdom (and expense) of the park system that documentary filmmaker Ken Burns called, “America’s Best Idea.” Oklahoma’s Park system has not been free from similar scrutiny.

            While this article focuses primarily on Red Rock Canyon State Park, near Hinton, Oklahoma, the same issues could apply to any of dozen and a half Oklahoma State Parks.

            Red Rock Canyon provided Cheyenne Indians with a sheltered wintering ground for decades and then in the 1840’s, it became a landmark and campsite on the old California Trail as gold seekers headed west for fame and fortune. The canyon’s rich history and unique qualities make it a special place for Oklahomans and visitors to our state.

            This weekend, a concerned constituent had heard that Red Rock Canyon State Park had been sold to a private entity. While I was not aware of a transfer of ownership, I knew that in early 2017 the director of the Department of Tourism and Recreation had recommended that Red Rock Canyon and 15 other state parks and a state owned golf course be closed and that publication of tourism’s magazine, “Oklahoma Today” be terminated.

            The director’s reason for the recommendation was because the targeted properties were not generating sufficient revenue to pay for their own operating costs. Tourism officials said earlier this year that in Fiscal Year 2017, Red Rock Canyon park revenues were about $140,000 and the annual costs to operate the park was just under $300,000.

            When the priority of the governor is to “run the state of Oklahoma like a business” decisions like closing parks are based solely on the economics of revenue, cash flow and costs of operation. Decisions of a corporation are supposed to be made purely in the best interest of its stockholders. Making money is the sole purpose of a corporation.

            One would hope that the future of a historical site or a recreational area would be based on more than the revenue that the site itself can generate. Perhaps the real culprit is the fact that between 2009 and 2018, the legislature cut Tourism’s budget by 38%, forcing parks to finance their own operations and crippling the state’s ability to properly fund tourism which is Oklahoma’s third largest industry.

Since the inquiry, my research has found that beginning on November 1, 2018, the City of Hinton and a private concessionaire will assume the responsibility of running the park which will henceforth be known as the “Red Rock Adventure Park.”

The move by the City of Hinton to operate the park rather than allow the state to close it was based largely on local economics with consideration given to its historical and cultural attributes. It is doubtful whether the City will be able to make it cash flow but closure as the state’s alternative was not acceptable.

Core function of government; or not? I would like to know your thoughts on this and other issues. Questions or comments, contact David Perryman at 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.