Cash Crunch Has Louisiana Parks Seeking Money-Raising Ideas

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's state parks and historic sites don't draw enough visitors or deep-pocketed donors to stay afloat without state subsidies, and the funds available to operate them are getting tighter.

         The state's continuing cash crunch has Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who oversees Louisiana's recreation and tourism department, searching for financing streams to drive more money into the recreational sites that residents and tourists use.

         Naming rights for parks, new attractions such as zip lines and any other idea that could help turn the facilities into moneymakers are under consideration. Nungesser is asking lawmakers to pass a measure letting him use partnerships with private sector companies to generate revenue.



         The Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism has seen its budget — like those of most other agencies — take cuts over the last nine years, amid continuing state financial problems.

         At its high point in the 2008-09 fiscal year, the department had a $106 million budget. In the current 2016-17 year, that has fallen to $89 million, and another more than $1 million reduction is proposed for next year, according to data from state House budget analysts.

         That leaves fewer dollars to operate Louisiana's parks and historic sites.

         A House analysis shows it costs the state more than $12 per visitor to operate the Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville and more than $30 per sightseer at the Poverty Point historic site in West Carroll Parish.

         Only two of Louisiana's 22 state parks made money last year, according to the analysis: Fontainebleau State Park in St. Tammany Parish and Lake Fausse Pointe State Park in the Atchafalaya Basin.

         Lawmakers say they support spending money to keep the facilities open.

         "I think our state needs to offer museums, parks and historic sites to people who live here and people who visit here," said Rep. Walt Leger, a New Orleans Democrat. "It's important that we keep these entities operating."

         But they're also looking for new ways to raise money to help support the sites.



         Nungesser's Office of State Parks raised entrance fees and camping and cabin charges on March 1, to help boost financing for the facilities.

         Among the changes, the entrance charge for state parks increased from $2 per person to $3. Entrance remains free for anyone 62 years or older and children 3 years old and under. Increases for cabin, lodge and camping site rentals varied depending on type and day.

         Eventually, the price hikes are estimated to raise $3 million annually for the facilities. But Nungesser's looking for other options to bump up revenue further.

         The lieutenant governor is looking for ways to get private companies — and their money — involved in the state's parks. Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, is sponsoring legislation aimed at allowing the negotiation of public/private partnerships like the one Nungesser is seeking.

         "Over the long term I believe we can make these parks make money," Nungesser told a House budget committee.


         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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