RD774 - Virginia State Parks Dedicated Funding Sources and Recommendations – November 2021

Executive Summary:

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of State Parks, completed this study to meet the directive of HB 1804, which unanimously passed during the 2021 General Assembly session. The Virginia State Park (VSP) system is responsible for stewardship and management of significant natural and cultural resources. With a land base of over 75,000 acres, VSP oversees 500 miles of shoreline, almost 2,000 acres of pollinator habitat, 36 lakes and ponds, two National Natural Landmarks and four “International Dark Sky Parks." Additionally, the VSP system includes three museums, two National Historic Landmarks and 34 sites on the National Register of Historic Places.

There were 7,805,520 estimated visits to Virginia State Parks in 2020. Visitation to Virginia State Parks peaks between June and August each year. Though the summer months see the highest visitation numbers, visitation to parks is strong all year with even the slowest months seeing hundreds of thousands of visits.

A Virginia Tech study found that Virginia State Parks generated $343 million in economic impact in 2019. The study found that the economic activity of Virginia State Parks “supported 4,180 jobs statewide with $167 million in wage and salary income and $260.7 million in value-added effects."

Today’s Virginia State Park system includes significant infrastructure. Assets currently inventoried include over 2,800 improvements with a replacement value of $1,246,773,008. Additionally, Virginia State Parks has over 682 miles of built trails. Maintenance of these facilities is a continuously under met need and VSP estimates the deferred maintenance backlog at $276 million.

When determining funding needs consideration was given to infrastructure, equipment, staffing, and routine operations. Full funding was viewed as the funding necessary to uphold the obligations of § 10.1-200 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, meet the mission of Virginia State Parks, and provide the guest safe and enjoyable experiences.

The total identified funding needs for Virginia State Parks is $158,753,697. With a current general fund appropriation of $21,617,218 and a 5-year average state park revenue stream of $25,700,000, a gap of $111,436,479 to full funding is recognized.

Recruiting sufficient staff is also an ongoing issue. Staffing of Virginia State Parks consists of approximately 20% full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (297 positions), and 80% hourly employees (1150 positions), on average. An over dependence upon hourly employees coupled with difficulties in recruiting those employees has resulted in high staff turnover and state parks with critical staffing shortages.

With a staffing profile comprised of 80% hourly employees, a critical need for VSP is the conversion of a significant portion of hourly positions to classified employee positions. Classified employees are covered by the Virginia Personnel Act and include the majority of salaried individuals employed by the Commonwealth’s Executive Branch. With this in mind, this report has identified a classified employee shortage of 304 positions.

To meet the full funding needs of Virginia State Parks operations, new sources of revenue will need to be found. High potential funding sources identified in this document include a designated sales tax, a waste disposal-tipping fee, a “Park Fee" to be collected with vehicle registrations, or a substantial increase in general fund appropriations.