Maryland park leaders tell lawmakers state parks are severely understaffed and underfunded



Maryland state parks are in desperate need of a financial boost to hire more permanent staff and update old infrastructure if they are to meet growing demands for park access, officials said Tuesday. state parks to lawmakers.

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Maryland state parks are in desperate need of a financial boost to hire more permanent staff and update old infrastructure if they are to meet growing demands for park access, officials said Tuesday. state parks to lawmakers.

Due to years of poor funding and understaffing, state park rangers are overworked and in need of support, state park leaders said.

For example, it took staff 500 hours to remove nearly 10,000 pounds of trash along a half-mile stretch of the Gunpowder River in Gunpowder Falls State Park in Baltimore County l last summer, Dean Hughes, president of the Maryland Rangers Association, told the state. Park investment commission Tuesday.

“We see how the large number of people are causing irreparable damage to sensitive environments,” he said.

State parks are also losing some of their rangers, who work at or near state minimum wage ($ 11.75), to private sector and county parks from Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore which offer better wages, said Hughes.

Although some park rangers leave state parks to work for county parks, most of the time they think “it’s just not worth it,” said Chris Czarra, park ranger at the park. of Patapsco Valley State and member of the Maryland Professional Employees Council. Local 6197.

Czarra said park rangers want annual pay increases and recognition as first responders because they are trained to provide some of the same emergency services as emergency medical technicians and police.

“Every day you don’t know what you are going to face and your plans are always turned upside down by the circumstances in the park,” he said.

To meet growing demand, new state parks have opened but without additional permanent staff, Hughes said.

For example, Wolf Den Run State Park in Garrett County opened in 2019, but is managed by the same staff responsible for Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls State Park.

And if a park warden is on sick leave, there is no qualified staff member to replace them, Czarra said.

Meanwhile, the number of visitors to the park has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unrealistic workloads and low salaries make a career in the park service an unappealing option for future stewards, Hughes said.

“The current trajectory of our state parks is simply not sustainable, and we desperately need a major investment to meet our state’s growing demand for outdoor recreation,” said Hughes.

There is also a disparity between the resources of state parks and national parks. Assateague State Park has only 10 permanent employees, but Assateague Island National Seashore has 50 permanent employees and, with seasonal staff, twice as many in the summer, Hughes said.

With an annual operating budget of around $ 50 million for Maryland state parks and with 21 million visitors last year, spending about $ 2 per visitor is not enough, Hughes said.

Mel Poole, president of the Friends of Maryland State Parks, an organization of volunteers, recommends that the state park system add at least 100 permanent staff positions to address only pre-pandemic visitation levels.

Poole also estimated a backlog of $ 100 million in maintenance work that has been delayed and needs to be addressed in next year’s budget.

Rangers want funds to upgrade bathrooms, sewage treatment systems and replace outdated maintenance equipment. Some are so outdated that it costs more to pay rangers overtime to fix them than to buy new equipment, Czarra said.

The funding is even more dire for local park systems, especially in Baltimore, said Frank Lance, president of the Parks and People Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to improve the quality of life in Baltimore by increasing the ‘access to green spaces.

Lance said he meets regularly with the director of the Baltimore City Parks and Recreation Department to determine how to make a difference in disenfranchised communities. “But from a funding source, we are trying to make bricks without straw,” he said.

Joel Dunn, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy, also recommended that the state develop a long-term investment budget plan separate from the Open Space program, which is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and provides financial assistance to local governments to support recreation grounds. and open spaces.

The federal Great American Outdoors Act passed last year allocates $ 900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and provides up to $ 9.5 billion over five years to close the backlog of maintenance in national parks. Dunn suggested lawmakers could follow this national funding model for Maryland state parks.

Hughes said he would like to see the State Parks Investment Commission put in place progressive policies for state parks, like the Kirwan Commission did for education with its master plan for the future of Maryland.



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