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NATIONAL PRESERVATION ORGANIZATION CITES INADEQUATE FUNDING FOR MISSOURI STATE PARKS

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation today issued its annual listing of the most endangered historic places in the United States, and heading the list are the nation's state park systems.  "It is a dubious honor that Missouri is featured as a 'prime example' of threatened state parks, along with five other states including California and New York," said Susan Flader, president of the Missouri Parks Association.

"Missouri's selection by the National Trust probably reflects our park system's strong national reputation as well as the failure of the Missouri legislature to address the funding crisis of our parks again this year," Flader surmised.  The Trust also cited the elimination of 120 staff positions last fall and a $200 million backlog of deferred maintenance.  A measure to provide for issuance of statewide construction bonds -- HJR 77 -- was bottled up by Speaker Ron Richard, who refused to assign it to a committee despite the fact that a similar measure passed the House and got all the way to the floor of the Senate last year, and this year it was co-sponsored by fifty-two representatives from both parties.  A broad coalition of parks, conservation, and historic preservation organizations was advocating for adoption of the bond issue.

Although Missouri's state park system is supported by the Parks and Soils Sales Tax, the revenue from this measure is largely exhausted by the costs of day-to-day operations -- keeping the parks functioning and serving the public.  This has increasingly been the case since the general revenue that used to fund staff salaries and benefits was stripped from parks during a state fiscal crisis twenty years ago, Flader explained. Very little is left over to see to infrastructure needs such as water and wastewater treatment, roads and trails, new roofs and other capital improvements that are equally necessary, but not often in the public eye.  Over the years, a backlog of over $200 million in such needs has accumulated.

"The failure of capital improvements funding in this session is a huge disappointment," Flader said.  "During a recession is the very best time to invest in long-term infrastructure improvements.  The projects are designed and ready to go, providing jobs for local contractors statewide. Construction costs are less, interest rates are low, and federal stimulus funds were even available to pay 35 percent of the interest for the life of the bonds.  Moreover, a previous state bond issue from the 1980s from which parks received 10 percent, is being retired, so it is time for a new bond issue.  And people who are staying closer to home need their parks as never before."

"It is critical that this issue be addressed in the next session of the General Assembly," Flader said.  "Missouri has one of the very best state park systems in the country, but it is rapidly losing ground."  The Missouri Parks Association is urging all citizens to contact their legislators, both incumbents and contenders, to make them aware of the problem and seek their support for the state park system.

The Missouri Parks Association is a statewide citizens organization of over 3,000 members who act in support of Missouri's state parks and sponsor such activities as UPOP, a program to provide outdoor state park experiences for urban youth. The group also wrote and brought into publication Exploring Missouri's Legacy, a full-color book featuring the state parks and historic sites. 

For more information visit http://parks.missouri.org.