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Celebrating the great state parks of the US
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NEW YORK: Smokers' rights group challenges NY's smoking ban

-Associated Press

A smokers' rights group is objecting to a new rule beginning this year that will prohibit smokers from using New York state's parks, pools areas and beaches and historic sites as ash trays...  "These bans were imposed by bureaucratic fiat, not legislated law," says Audrey Silk, founder of CLASH, which supports smokers' rights nationwide.  "On that basis alone, they're unconstitutional."

 

Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the parks department, said the authority to create the measure comes from the Legislature.  He said state parks and recreation law allows the agency to take action to protect the welfare and safety of the public...  Silk had said CLASH will sue if the department doesn't change its position.

 

New York City already bans smoking in parks and at beaches, boardwalks and public plazas and is stepping up enforcement with more than 100 tickets issued so far this year...  [State-level] bills... have died in Senate and Assembly committees for years...  Silk said the April announcement of the rules came ahead of a 45-day comment period, required before state regulations can be adopted.

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ALABAMA: Alabama State park funding in danger

ALABAMA: Alabama State park funding in danger | State parks | Scoop.it

-Stephen McLamb

Funding to the state parks could be slashed dramatically if a bill passing though the legislature becomes law.  Much of the state park funds come from the people who visit them.  However, $8 million provided by the state could become just $1 million if the House version of the bill is passed.

 

Last year, the $5 million in sales tax revenue was cut for two years to the parks.  Now, the House has passes a bill which would transfer two of the remaining $3 million in state funds that comes from the cigarette tax to go to the general fund...  While the House version of the bill has passed, the Senate has not yet voted on the budget that includes the state park funding.

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NORTH DAKOTA: North Dakota’s 13 state parks don’t foresee an employment problem

NORTH DAKOTA: North Dakota’s 13 state parks don’t foresee an employment problem | State parks | Scoop.it

-Royal McGregor

Though finding and keeping employees in western North Dakota can be a challenge, state parks shouldn’t have a problem this summer, said Gordon Weixel, North Dakota Parks and Recreation public information officer.  “We’ve always had our challenges of bringing people in, but we usually can fill the positions.”

 

In western North Dakota, achieving a certain pay can be tough when compared to other opportunities.  “The oil field activity is definitely taking a pretty big part out of the work pool,” said Roger Clemens, Medora’s Sully Creek State Park manager.  “What they pay here probably isn’t as attractive as what they pay in the oil field.”

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TEXAS: President Bush to bike in Palo Duro Canyon

-Kyndel Lee-Bates

The 2nd Annual W100 Wounded Warrior Bike Tour is bringing the former commander in chief and veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to the second largest canyon in the country.  President George W. Bush will be joined this Thursday through Saturday by 20 servicemen and women who were injured while fighting for freedom overseas.  They will mountain bike 100 kilometers through Palo Duro Canyon State Park on trails that will be closed to the public.  The rest of the canyon will remain open.

 

President Bush began hosting the event last year, which took place in Big Bend Ranch State Park...  "From what I understand, President Bush, his skill level and his experience in mountain biking is such that he wants to go to places where it's challenging, where it's beautiful scenery," Bryan Frazier stated.  As with any trip taken by a president, security precautions have to be taken.  Palo Duro Canyon has been under the radar for a while now...  "The Secret Service... [have] made several advanced trips and they're working diligently to provide protection and safety," Palo Duro Canyon State Park Superintendent Cory Evans said.  "We also have several of our own Parks & Wildlife peace officers that will be working with security, as well, for all three days of the event."

 

Evans predicted the publicity of this event will spread the word about Palo Duro Canyon and bring more locals and tourists to the park.  "I would say that this is probably one of if not the highest profile visitor we've had to Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  Definitely, I think, we'll see an increase in visitation and put Palo Duro Canyon on the map."

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PENNSYLVANIA: Missing woman sought after abandoned car found at Big Pocono State Park

PENNSYLVANIA: Missing woman sought after abandoned car found at Big Pocono State Park | State parks | Scoop.it

-Andrew Scott

Rescuers planned to resume their search this morning for a 61-year-old woman in Big Pocono State Park after her car was discovered there Monday morning.  Angela Mayo of Mount Pocono was last seen Saturday and did not show up for work Monday...  The search continued late into the evening before being called off for the night.

 

Mayo's silver 2010 Hyundai Accent was found off into the woods, bordering Camelback Ski Area near the Stevenson Express ski lift, at around 8 a.m. by a maintenance worker.  By the afternoon, the park was closed as more people and search dogs were brought in to join the efforts...  Weather was affecting the search, as dogs tried to pick up the scent despite the wet conditions.  The wind picked up as the day went on, and snow was expected to fall overnight.

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NEW JERSEY: The avian reality show: Camera records osprey pair's domestic drama

NEW JERSEY: The avian reality show: Camera records osprey pair's domestic drama | State parks | Scoop.it

-Kirk Moore

A pair of fish hawks nesting at Island Beach State Park have a worldwide audience for their Jersey Shore avian reality show...  Streaming online video from a camera peering into the nest lets anyone watch the domestic drama of an osprey pair (also called fish hawks), and hopefully their spring 2012 chicks.  Naturalists say this breeding season has brought about 30 pairs returning to the 8-mile long barrier beach park and its sedge islands in Barnegat Bay.

 

Friends of Island Beach,... along with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, had long wanted to set up a monitoring camera...  It’s become a centerpiece of the group’s online presence...  The nonprofit support group’s effort comes at a time when the state Department of Environmental Protection is looking to vault forward with new digital services for state parks, such as more online information and new apps to help park patrons using mobile devices.

 

The project finally came together in February, with the help of tech-savvy volunteers, technology companies, and a spare telephone pole and aerial lift trucks from Seaside Heights...  The osprey nest [is] seven miles down the Island Beach road...  But for every challenge thrown at the team, they pushed back gently, talked up the project with suppliers and vendors, and came up with a free-standing system that not only works, but can be applied in other remote wildlife areas.  With success, project organizers are thinking about other remote corners of the park where wildlife can be brought to park visitors and online users

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SOUTH DAKOTA: SD plans to open future Blood Run park to visitors by appointment this summer

SOUTH DAKOTA: SD plans to open future Blood Run park to visitors by appointment this summer | State parks | Scoop.it

-Dirk Lammers

State Parks and Recreation Director Doug Hofer has a spring in his step as he hikes the potential trails meandering through Blood Run, a national historic landmark set to become South Dakota's first new state park in more than 50 years...  "The topography and the natural resources working together just give you some fantastic panoramic views, and you have both natural resources and historic resources in one site," Hofer said.

 

Officials won't seek state park status until the Legislature convenes in January, but Hofer tells the Associated Press that people should be able to visit the land this summer through guided tours by appointment.  "The first step in that is going to be having a veteran interpreter-historian living on site this summer to help tell that story," he said.

 

Many Oneota groups settled on flood plains along rivers, and the Blood Run site eight miles southeast of Sioux Falls is "probably the largest of the Oneota sites," [archaeologist] Fishel said.  The area was occupied in later times by the Omaha, Ponca, Ioway and Oto, and it's believed that many tribes can trace their lineage back to the Oneota, he said.

 

The department's master plan finalized last month eventually calls for entrance roads, a visitors center, historic preservation and interpretation, group and rustic camping areas, ceremonial sites and a pedestrian bridge linking the South Dakota and Iowa sides.  For now, South Dakota parks officials will keep the hiking trails mowed and offer a knowledgeable guide to share Blood Run's history with the public, Hofer said.

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Cellphone towers in state parks: Answering nature’s call (SATIRE)

-Steve Fagin

What is it with wacky environmentalists who are fighting to block construction of cellphone towers in state parks and forests?..  The problem isn’t too many towers, it’s too few of them.  When’s the last time you got more than one bar on your Nokia while out in some godforsaken boondocks?  What would happen if you got lost and couldn’t get a signal?  Do you think the Sierra Club, which is urging the Connecticut General Assembly to shoot down a law to allow wilderness tower construction, would go looking for you?

 

This raises another question: How come the state doesn’t permit fast-food restaurants, motels or convenience stores in parks and forests?  What’s up with that?  How many times has this happened to you: You’ve been walking for a half-hour or more and start to get light-headed because you haven’t had a bite to eat since those pancakes, sausages, home fries and cinnamon buns at breakfast.  At the very least there should be vending machines so you can bring up your blood sugar with a few Devil Dogs or bags of pork rinds.  And would it kill anybody if there were a Motel 6 or two?  What are you supposed to do if it rains?  Sleep in a tent?  Puh-leeze.

 

Eco-terrorists are ruining it for everybody just because they think the wilderness is something special.  What’s so wonderful about mosquitoes, deer ticks or poison ivy?  Isn’t that why they invented Raid and Roundup?  Back to cellphone towers: They make ‘em now that blend right in with the surrounding terrain, so what’s the big deal?  All you see is what looks like a 400-foot redwood towering over a bunch of puny pines and hemlocks.  Heck, people might even go out of their way to see the giant “tree.”  You could charge admission.

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NEW YORK: Commissioner shows passion for N.Y. parks

NEW YORK: Commissioner shows passion for N.Y. parks | State parks | Scoop.it

-Kathleen Hickey interviewing Commissioner Rose Hickey

 

New York’s Parks system... is the oldest and the second most visited in the country.  It has more historic sites than any other state system.  Its historic roots are powerful, including the work of Frederick Law Olmstead, Robert Moses, Frederic Church and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps.  The New York State Parks system was built for the people.  The master builders foresaw the need for parks to service a heavily urbanized population...  Until I became commissioner, I had no idea of the breadth, the depth, the history, the majesty or the symbolism involved.  It is really very special.

 

New York State Parks are also the most developed.  Right from the very beginning, our forefathers had the notion to include hotels, restaurants, boat rides — all to make the system easier to access.

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IDAHO: $10 Idaho State Parks Passport not available until 2013

-Pete Zimowski

It sounds like the $10 Idaho State Parks Passport will be one heck of a popular deal, and a lot of people want it now...  Staff at county Division of Motor Vehicle offices are getting requests for them, even through they aren’t available until Jan. 1 next year.

 

Under the program, you can get the passport when you renew your vehicle registration.  You have to opt in at the time of your license plate renewal either by mail, online or at any DMV office...  If you already registered your rig this year for two years... it doesn’t have to be purchased at the same time as the registration.  The Passport sticker is tied to your vehicle registration and license plate and valid for the same amount of time.

 

The current $40 annual Idaho State Parks Motor Vehicle Entry stickers will continue to be available for out-of-state residents or Idahoans without registered vehicles.

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KANSAS: New campsite, cabin reservation system launched April 17; no park damage from weekend storms

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) has announced that its new online campsite and cabin reservations system is up and running.  This good news followed reports that with the exception of a few downed trees and a temporary power outage at Kanopolis State Park, Kansas state parks survived unscathed by tornadoes that rampaged through the state on April 14.

 

The new system makes it easy to find and reserve campsites and cabins in the state parks...  It is hosted on ReserveAmerica.com...  The new reservation system allows KDWPT to take its paper- and phone-based camping reservations process online for the first time, creating tremendous efficiencies for both park staff and consumers.

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NEW YORK: State parks official says U.S. Maid of the Mist site doesn't appear 'viable'

NEW YORK: State parks official says U.S. Maid of the Mist site doesn't appear 'viable' | State parks | Scoop.it

-Mark Scheer

The Maid of the Mist’s idea to build a new boat storage facility on the American side of the Falls received a less-than-favorable review from a top state parks official on Monday...  Western Region State Parks Director Mark Thomas said the Maid’s new construction plan may be too complex to pull off in a reasonable timeframe.

 

Maid of the Mist Steamboat Co. has operated boat tours around the base of the falls in both the U.S. and Canada for 166 years.  Earlier this year, the company lost the rights to operate tours from the Canadian side of the falls when members of the Niagara Parks Commission in Canada agreed to enter into a new 30-year lease with the firm, Hornblower Canada Company [that] starts in 2014.

 

Maid of the Mist President Christopher Glynn expressed optimism that his company could extend its presence beyond next year by creating a new boat storage area on the American side of the falls.  State parks officials have previously stated that the project — which would likely involve an extensive and potentially time-consuming environmental review — may not be doable within the next two years...  “How it’s going to play out remains to be seen,” Thomas said.

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CONNECTICUT: Groups resist cellphone towers in parks

-Judy Benson

Environmental groups around the state are working to ensure that a bill pending in the state legislature to revise telecommunications laws does not include a section that would allow cellphone towers in state parks and forests...  The bill... would allow the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to approve construction of cellphone towers in state parks and forests.  The governor's approval would also be needed.

 

Rental fees generated by the cell towers would go into the state's general fund, so parks would not benefit from additional revenues...  State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, a committee member... and several others on the committee, she said, approved the bill "with the understanding that this would be out of the bill."  The revisions removing that portion will be made in an amendment that will be introduced from the floor of the legislature...  The remainder of the bill, Ritter said, contains needed updates of telecommunications regulations, so the whole thing should not be scrapped.

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OREGON: Gladstone-area man cited for "cutting cookies" at Milo McIver State Park

OREGON: Gladstone-area man cited for "cutting cookies" at Milo McIver State Park | State parks | Scoop.it

-Rick Bella

Kenneth Leroy Burke, 33, was cited by Oregon State Police after an investigation into torn-up landscaping at the park.  Burke has been ordered to appear in Clackamas County Circuit Court to face a charge of first-degree criminal mischief, a Class C felony punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and a $125,000 fine.

 

Troopers received reports that a pickup spun circles on two grassy areas near the park's south entrance on April 24.  A witness provided a state parks employee with a description of the pickup and its license plate numbers.  After investigating, troopers identified the pickup and contacted its owner.  [Police spokesman] Hastings said a preliminary estimate indicates it may cost about $2,000 to repair the damage.

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CALIFORNIA: Trip review – Twin Lakes State Beach

CALIFORNIA: Trip review – Twin Lakes State Beach | State parks | Scoop.it

-Lucy D'Mot, State Park Closures Trip

 

Perhaps it is because this beach is part of my teenage stomping grounds that the announcement of its closure seems ridiculous.  Back in the decades before the sun was so dangerous, and prior to tanning booths, my girlfriends and I would spend many hours at Twin Lakes Beach darkening our skin...  The 70 parks on the closure list were selected in part by the amount of money they cost to keep open, and by their usage.  I can assure you that when the sun comes out, lawn chair and umbrella space are at premium at Twin Lakes.  Even on this blustery, midweek January day, people, dogs, kayakers and paddlers dotted the sand and water.

 

Guiding the fishing crafts into the harbor is the other main focal point of Twin Lakes SB, the Walton Lighthouse.  The structure that currently stands flashing its green beam every four seconds, was built in 2001.  It replaced previous, unsightly lightbox and simple pipe buildings that have stood there since 1964, with this lighthouse and its more classic design.

 

The beach "closes" at 10:00 pm.  Perhaps whatever method they use to close the beach at night is what they will do if Twin Lakes closes permanently.  I may have to return soon - with my flashlight - to find out exactly how that's done.

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OKLAHOMA: Lake Murray Lodge bill goes to Gov.

Legislation approved Thursday by House law­makers would authorize $15 million for the con­struction of a new lodge in Lake Murray State Park...  “This is the state’s crown jewel of parks and a draw to nearby Dallas, bringing Texas tourism dollars to the state,” said Ownbey, R-Ardmore...  “The new lodge is needed because the old one has deteriorated badly.  This project will not cost a single taxpayer dollar but will bring a great deal of revenue to municipal and state government.”

 

Oklahoma operates 41 state park properties, but only owns 14 of the parks.  Lake Murray State Park, with 12,496 acres, is big­ger than all the other state-owned parks com­bined...  “Being that a majority of the royalties put into the State Park Fund came from the Lake Murray State Park, it only makes sense to use those funds to build a new lodge at that park with modern amenities that will be more appealing to tourists than the current, outdated one," said Simpson, R-Ardmore.

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ALABAMA: Free wireless at select Alabama state parks

ALABAMA: Free wireless at select Alabama state parks | State parks | Scoop.it

With free wireless Internet now available at select Alabama State Park campgrounds, roughing it no longer means disconnecting from the modern world.  Currently Lakepoint, Gulf, Wind Creek, and Cheaha State Parks have Wi-Fi Internet in the campgrounds. Lake Guntersville, Joe Wheeler, and Oak Mountain are in the final stages of establishing their Wi-Fi systems.

 

According to Alabama State Parks Acting Co-Director Tim Wishum, the wireless Internet program is one of the largest wide-scale Wi-Fi deployments of any United States park system...  “We started the program at Gulf State Park in 2010,” Wishum said.  “Since then we have deployed more than 600 radios, routers, and relays, utilizing 92 miles of wireless networks to provide Internet to more than 1,200 campsites.”

 

Rather than create a few localized “hotspots,” Alabama State Parks have turned entire campgrounds “hot” allowing guests to stay connected while in the comfort of their own RV.  Since implementing the program, improvements have been made to ensure problem areas and outages are resolved quickly.  Free Wi-Fi is also available in or near the park office or store in select parks that do not have the campground systems.  Those parks include Blue Springs, Monte Sano, Buck’s Pocket, Florala, Frank Jackson, Lake Lurleen and DeSoto.

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ALABAMA: 2 teams complete Alabama State Park 2012 Geocaching Challenge in less than 4 days

ALABAMA: 2 teams complete Alabama State Park 2012 Geocaching Challenge in less than 4 days | State parks | Scoop.it

-Natalie Wade

The Alabama State Parks system issued a Geocaching Challenge that included visiting all 22 state parks, and two teams completed the challenge in less than four days.  The challenge started Saturday, April 14, and hard-core geocachers wasted no time...  An out-of-state, two-person team dubbed the Waysiders completed the challenge in three days, while another two-person team finished shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday.

 

The Waysiders, Jim Williamson and Andy Beyer, may have finished first.  But the first Alabamians to complete the challenge were Lowell Berenguer, 67, of Montgomery, and Kala Brooks.  The two women have known each other since meeting at a cache in October 2007.  They've been on several geocaching expeditions together.

 

Berenguer said there's not usually a prize for being first, which might have brought out her competitive side.  "Hey, we did it in really fast time.  I mean we would get up between 4:30 and 5:15 a.m. and get on the road as soon as we could.  We tried to be at the first state park that we were going to at 7 a.m. each day," Berenguer said.  The pair drove for 1,600 miles during the challenge, and Berenguer said it wasn't just about the challenge.  "That was one of the greatest things about this whole trip – getting to see the unique beauty the state parks offer.  We just saw some absolutely beautiful country," she said.  Both the Waysiders and Berenguer's team received a special edition Alabama State Parks 2012 Geocaching Challenge coin and a gift card to the state parks.

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ALABAMA: Lake Guntersville State Park rebounds after last year’s devastating tornadoes

-Josh Wolfe

Lake Guntersville has yet to relinquish its title of North Alabama’s top vacation spot despite three tornadoes that ripped through the park last year.  The tornadoes had a major impact on the park’s trees – 95% of the trees that once inhabited the campground and 65% of the trees on the golf course are now gone.  However, many have remained optimistic.

 

“There was major damage to the park during the storms, but it is giving us the opportunity to rebuild a new and improved Lake Guntersville State Park,” said Tim Wishum, acting co-director of Alabama State Parks.  “While we’d still rather have our trees, the view from the chalets and the lodge is fantastic.”  The park’s activities include Eagle Nest Golf Course (18 holes), 36 miles of hiking trails, 139 improved campsites with more coming soon, six primitive campsites, 18 chalets and five lakeside cabins, and of course, excellent fishing on Alabama’s largest lake.

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MINNESOTA: State protected by contract with new parks vendor

-Steve Karnowski

Despite the early headaches, [parks director] Nelson said the [reservation] system has been working well since a beefed-up version became fully operational April 2.  And the state is more likely to recoup some money from the vendor than lose any money from the rough launch...  Its contract was structured to minimize costs to the state, so the vendor has had to bear most of the costs of getting the system working.  The DNR pays at most $175,000 for the three-year contract, which Nelson expects the state’s share of fees to more than cover.  The state’s contract allows it to withhold up to 10 percent of fee revenue pending a performance review at the end of each year.  Nelson wouldn’t predict how much the state might keep for its trouble.

 

US eDirect outbid the previous reservation system provider in part by promising a system that would do more for less money, and the new system is clearly better.  It offers campers much more information...  Users simply select a park, punch in the dates and type of site they want, and the system returns a chart of what’s available on and around those dates.  The user can also summon a map to perform a similar search.

When the user points the cursor at a specific campsite, a window pops up with a picture and a wealth of other information: the nightly rate, whether it’s shady, how close it is to the water, even the exact number of feet to the nearest restroom.  Click on the site and the reservation process begins.

 

Nelson said publicity from the troubled launch may turn out to be good for business in the end, though the pleasant early spring has certainly contributed.

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KENTUCKY: Families schedule fun outdoors by entering Kentucky state parks Adventure Quest

KENTUCKY: Families schedule fun outdoors by entering Kentucky state parks Adventure Quest | State parks | Scoop.it

-Valarie Honeycutt Spears

Shelli and Bill Gregory of Lexington often take their three children to a Kentucky state park on weekends to spend time together outdoors.  But this year, Shelli Gregory said, the family wanted to add a challenge to their pastime.  They entered the Kentucky Department of Parks' Family Adventure Quest, a scavenger hunt for teams of families or friends...  For their first quest, the Gregorys took on a challenge to visit any historic home and "explore the outside details with the eye of an artist.  Share a close up photo of any architectural or structural detail you find particularly beautiful or interesting."

 

In its seventh year, the Family Adventure Quest presents a series of challenges that teams complete by seeking out facts or objects in Kentucky's 50 state parks and supplying a photo as the answer.  The hunt is not a competition, and teams go at their own pace.  The hunt can be completed through Dec. 1.  Teams can answer some questions by visiting any of several parks, while some challenges are park-specific.  Depending upon the number of challenges a team completes, members can receive free overnight stays at park lodges, passes to museums or forts or gift cards they can use at state parks.

 

Each team pays a $15 registration fee and receives items they might need on their adventures — an insulated tote that they can carry food in, a Kentucky State Parks calendar planner, and informational materials.  Eighty one teams including 333 people entered the Family Adventure Quest in 2011...  Shelli Gregory and her family plan on visiting at least 13 parks in 2012 as part of the Adventure Quest.  The Gregorys are studying a packet sent to them by the state to map out their next move.  "We'll plan our summer that way," Shelli Gregory said.

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PHOTO OF THE DAY: Desert Bighorn – Valley of Fire

PHOTO OF THE DAY: Desert Bighorn – Valley of Fire | State parks | Scoop.it

-Ron Niebrugge

I spotted this guy in Valley of Fire last week.  As beautiful as the scenery is in this State Park, it is also one of the better places in the Southwest to find Desert Bighorns.  This guy looked a little haggard.  Later in the day I found a band of about 11 big, beautiful rams, but they weren’t nearly as approachable as this guy.

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PENNSYLVANIA: State parks bracing for budget cuts

PENNSYLVANIA: State parks bracing for budget cuts | State parks | Scoop.it

-Philip Petrunak

The Laurel Hill State Park Complex has a positive financial outlook this year, officials announced Wednesday.  But those sunny days may dampen in the coming years due to state funding cuts.   Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget eliminates the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, park officials said.  About $30 million is set to be moved from the parks and recreation fund into the state's general fund balance.  "We don't feel it now, but down the road we will," said Mike Mumau, park operations manager for the Laurel Hill State Park Complex.

 

The blow comes at a time when state parks are at their most profitable, Mumau said.  The Laurel Hill State Park Complex generates about $10.7 million annually...  "For every $1 parks generate, $12.41 is generated in the communities of Pennsylvania through direct and indirect (tourism) spending," Mumau said.

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NEW YORK: Remains found in Allegany State Park identified as missing hiker

NEW YORK: Remains found in Allegany State Park identified as missing hiker | State parks | Scoop.it

-Scott Levin

New York State Parks Police say human remains found in Allegany State Park Tuesday have been identified as Thomas Hamilton, the elderly man who went missing a year and a half ago...  Police say the remains were located in the general area where 92-year-old Thomas Hamilton was reported missing during a hike with his daughter inside Allegany State Park.  Officials say a watch near where the remains were located was identified by Hamilton's family as belonging to him.

 

A hiker reported to Park Police Tuesday that he found what he believed to be human remains near the Art Roscoe ski trails in the Red House area of Allegany State Park.  The remains were found nearly two miles from where they entered the trail, and about 500 yards east of the trail.  State Park Police officers and rangers spent days searching the park when Hamilton first went missing, covering 6,000 acres.

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FLORIDA: Law enforcement merger may save money, but will it protect state parks?

-Bruce Ritchie

When state park visitors see law enforcement officers in the future, they'll likely be state wildlife officers rather than Florida Department of Environmental Protection park police.  HB 1383, signed by Gov. Rick Scott on April 6, transfers 147 positions in DEP's Division of Law Enforcement to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which now has 720 sworn officers...  HB 1383 moved through the Legislature with little discussion and without any no votes.  DEP and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission supported the bill.  The consolidation will save $3.1 million in the first five years and $1.2 million per year after that, according to a House staff analysis.

 

A law enforcement task force report said the different agencies perform duplicative functions as they monitor state lands that are often close to one another.  DEP says the consolidation will make more law enforcement officers available to assist at state parks.

But some law enforcement officers and former park managers say the duties of a park law enforcement officer are different from those of state wildlife officers.  There could be benefits to the consolidation, but there also are potential drawbacks, they say.

 

"If our mission is to protect the natural and cultural resources on DEP managed property, greenways and trails and aquatic preserves and we start doing other things than what our original mission was, that is mission creep," Carl Nielsen, executive director of the Park Law Enforcement Association...  If someone is committing a flagrant violation and should be ticketed, [retired park manager] Cook said a park manager doesn't want to have to make a phone call and wait on a law enforcement officer.

 

The task force report acknowledged there would be advantages and disadvantages, including transition difficulties and conflicts from integrating staff from agencies with different missions.  But the task force also said the consolidation would allow 10 percent of supervisory positions to be reassigned to the field, reducing response times and the burden on local law enforcement agencies.

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