The 16 member State Parks System Advisory Council, of which I am vice chair, meets every other month with Ted Austin, Director of the stateís Division of Parks and Recreation, to get an update on operations and discuss recommendations and actions of the council as we try to help the parks system. Our system has 92 properties including parks, beaches, historic sites, campgrounds and natural areas.
At our meeting last week, Ted Austin reported that income from state parks fees was up for the fiscal year 2010 that ended on June 30th. Revenue rose 9.1 percent over the prior year.
Of the $12.5 million of fee income, Cannon Mountain contributed $4.8 million, the Flume took in $1.6 million and revenue from the parking meters at Hampton Beach totaled $1.5 million. Locally, income from Sunapee State Beach was $123,000, up 33 percent from the $93,000 the prior year; Pillsbury State Park took in $62,000 or about the same as the year before.
The parks system also runs retail operations at many locations and that produced an additional $3.5 million, up 14 percent over the prior year. All of these figures reflect gross revenue and indicate the ability of the parks to attract users.
Director Austin also told the council that the new fiscal year that started on July 1 is off to a good start. So, there is optimism that park usage will be strong again this year including rentals at our very important overnight camping sites.
As the only state park system in the country that is self-funded, the system has struggled for years to take in enough money each year to pay annual operating costs as well as to pay for long term maintenance, improvements and expansion expenses.
Although the legislature in each of the last two biennium budgets provided capital funds through bonding to do some renovations and upgrades, much remains to be done. There is simply too much maintenance that has been deferred and in some cases that is catching up with us. The bathrooms at North Hampton State Beach, for example, are closed because of a septic system failure. Bathers have to use portable toilets. The cost to fix the problem is $580,000 and requires local approvals.
Nature intrudes, too, as the media reported on a dead jellyfish coming into the waters at Wallis Sands State Beach. Although the jellyfish was dead, its tentacles still can sting bathers. That happened to 150 people last week. There were no major injuries and the next day the beach was busy with swimmers and sunbathers.
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In a small state like New Hampshire, we benefit tremendously by citizen and professional leadership in every sector of our economy and every region of our state. There are always a few who are giants in their leadership contribution to our state. One of those is Lew Feldstein who led the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for 24 years.
On my way home, late Friday afternoon, I stopped by the charitable foundation to say thanks to Lew and wish him well in his retirement. It was his last day on the job and he was alone in the office. All the employees had said their good-byes earlier and Lew was packing up some personal things.
When Lew joined the foundation its assets were around $25 million. Today they are nearly $400 million making the foundation a major foundation funder in the state, giving away $30 million per year. A good deal of money goes to college scholarships but also to many important not-for-profit organizations and institutions across the state.
Given my work in the State Senate, I am particularly appreciative of the partnerships that Lew and his team have created that deal with public policy issues. State parks would be one example; another is the work to institute community corrections in New Hampshire and thus reduce recidivism. The ultimate beneficiary is the state, with costs being reduced.
I most recently served with Lew on the Governorís Study Commission on Gaming. Collegial at all times, his insightful questioning of presenters, his determination to really understand the issues involved and his long term concern for the future of New Hampshire were evident over and over again.
Lew leaves to take some rowing lessons, and because of his national stature in the community foundation arena, is off to give some speeches around the country. But home base will be his beloved adopted state of New Hampshire. Todayís residents of New Hampshire live in a better place thanks to a quarter century of leadership and contributions from Lew Feldstein.
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A last minute family matter kept me from the Eagle Scout Court of Honor that recognized Samuel Chabotís entry into the elite status of Eagle Scout. Sam completed the many requirements to become an Eagle Scout. His Eagle project involved organizing and leading an effort to reclaim an earthen dam in the Knights Hill Nature Park in New London. Congratulations to Sam, his family, fellow scouts and scout leaders on Samís reaching the highest rank in scouting.
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