There is concern within the tourism and private park industry that the budget cuts and the possible closure of 70 state parks in California pose a threat to privately owned and operated campgrounds in California and across the country.

The issue is that thousands of campers go to California to see the extraordinary sites located within the state parks, but camp in private parks along the way, and without many state parks open, private campgrounds could be hurt by fewer visitors.   

    However, Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, feels strongly that the challenge presented also provides opportunities to counter the situation with increased public-private park collaboration, particularly in the areas of marketing and media outreach, since both industries target the same consumer.
    “We have a very strong interest in being together with the private park industry as we face these challenges,” said Coleman, who noted that California State Parks will join the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) this month.

Coleman, who will become president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD) in September, added that while 70 state parks in California are currently scheduled to close on July 1, 2012, opportunities exist for private park operators to take over management of several state park campgrounds.

Coleman said she is also open to discussing ways in which state parks can help refer campers to privately owned parks, perhaps by directing them to websites such as GoCampingAmerica.com or Camp-California.com.

“We bring the destination,” Coleman said. “State parks are the thing that people want to come see. But we don’t offer that many spots for people to stay.”

Indeed, the entire California State Park system only has about 15,000 campsites, while the private park sector has more than 90,000 camping and RV sites. But by working together, Coleman said, both public and private parks could find ways to help each other.

California is among the first of a half of dozen state park systems that have already indicated interest in joining ARVC this year following a recent push by the association to open its doors to all non-member parks throughout the country, including state parks.

Several states already have strong relationships with state parks, including Virginia, Maryland and Maine, but, more can be done, not only at the state level, but at local levels across the country.

Debbie Sipe, executive director of California ARVC, sees these efforts at pubic park-private park sector collaboration as a positive move, and noted that the state association is specifically interested in stepping up its  marketing and public relations outreach efforts in collaboration with California State Parks.

Sipe said communicating with Coleman also enables her to better understand challenges facing state parks while also identifying ways in which state parks could help private park operators.

Looking down the road, Sipe said increased public-park park collaboration could also go a long way toward improving best practices in campground management across the country.

Paul Bambei, ARVC president and CEO, said ARVC Director of Membership Jeff Sims plans to attend next month’s annual NASPD Convention, where he plans to reach out to state park directors across the country and highlight the association’s efforts to seek improved collaboration with the public park sector to help both industries in these challenging economic times.

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