Oklahoma Lawmakers Discuss State Park Funding In Interim Study

News 9's Colby Thelen covers an interim study on the conditions of state parks and possible solutions.

Tuesday, October 24th 2023, 5:22 pm

An interim study took place Monday examining state park funding and aging infrastructure.

Soon, state parks will begin closing many campsites and lodges for the winter, but there’s now fear some could be in danger of closing permanently.

The department hopes the study leads to an increase in funding to fix park conditions.

“It's at all of the parks. There is some issue with degradation,” Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt said. “We’re talking about major infrastructure. We’re talking about sewer lines, water lines, health and safety issues that are urgent and pressing now.”

Zumwalt said issues like these are spread across all 30 state parks.

It’s why she recently took a 2-week tour of the parks with lawmakers. She hopes to receive $350 million in deferred maintenance funding. The source, she said, would be the recently created state legacy fund.

Oklahoma lawmakers met with the Director of Arkansas State Parks. Arkansas faced similar problems, and addressed them with an eighth of a percent sales tax and a 10-year plan.

“We’re talking about decades of disinvestment that we’re trying to catch up for,” Zumwalt said.

The push isn’t just for maintenance, but improvements, which she hopes increase the return on investment.

One solution would be the removal of a 2015 cap on sales tax funding for parks and tourism. The state says it would reallocate millions, which are currently going to general revenue.

“I think it was an appropriate fiscal measure at the time, but now we do have a much better outlook as a state,” Zumwalt said. “It’s a time where we can really invest in the state and the properties that we think are important.”

Another study will be conducted on November 1st. That study will examine the funding for tourism promotion under the same sales tax cap.

Zumwalt hopes lifting the cap will allow Oklahoma to stay competitive with neighboring states.


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