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Joe Elton

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Closed for "Business" -- Can We Reverse the Fate for Our Parks?

Posted: 08/31/11 07:09 PM ET

It's no secret that the economic downturn has touched every single area of our lives. From nationwide cuts in public services to budget shortfalls in nearly every state and choices we make in our own little corners of the world, much of what we thought we could always count on has changed.

A devastating sign of these times has been the threatened and planned closing of hundreds of parks, the imposition of higher entry fees for many more and the gross state of disrepair seen at others. Since our country's parks are a top destination among families, especially during the summer months, this also means that low- and no-cost recreation and entertainment options are diminishing, as family resources are moving in the same downward direction. Sadly, many communities are being left without places close to home where they can gather, be active, have fun and share the family traditions of summertime.

The true irony is that America's incredible public parks system -- a model followed by more than 100 countries -- have always been a national priority even through devastating financial times dating back to the Civil War. For more than 150 years, citizens and government have worked hand in hand to develop and maintain our parks. So, as park managers are forced to be more creative -- stretching staff capacity with volunteers, foregoing necessary maintenance in favor of more pressing demands, relying on partners to help finance important projects -- many park-lovers and advocates are asking themselves what they can do to help.

For the second year in a row, America's State Parks have joined forces with The Coca Cola Company and the National Park Foundation, and this year we have added support from the National Recreation and Park Association, to help re-ignite America's passion for their parks.
The America is Your Park campaign provides the answer for anyone who is stumped for ways that you can help your favorite park this summer.

The campaign starts with a simple question: "What's your favorite park?" Then it asks you to get active in the park this summer and go online to http://www.LivePositively.com and vote for your favorite to win up to $100,000 for needed improvements by September 6.

Pretty simple. The best way to help your favorite park this summer is to visit, enjoy and vote.

Think it sounds a little too simple to really make a difference? Last year's contest literally mobilized millions of people in a fierce, round-the-clock online competition that ended in a small state park in Ely, Minnesota taking home the top prize. Bear Head Lake State Park beat out thousands of other parks for the title of "America's Favorite " solely from the support of people like you who went online, sparked their social networks, alerted the media and encouraged their families and friends to get involved. For years, this mostly volunteer-run park had been making plans and small steps toward raising funds for a warming hut that would provide comfort for winter sports enthusiasts. The America is Your Park campaign gave this small park, and many others, a boost that they otherwise would not have seen.

Even the parks that don't win the grand prize benefit from the show of support. It's not as easy or palatable to cut a park's budget, staff or operating hours when policy makers know that the park has a strong base of community support. Don't underestimate the power of your vote this summer -- it could just provide the vital support to keep your favorite park open for business.