If Colorado is to maintain the integrity of its state parks, it must approach possibilities for more extensive oil and gas extraction with caution.
According to news agencies across the state, Coloradoâ€™s state parks are looking at a variety of solutions for funding including closing four of the parks, expanding selective mineral extraction operations, and as they have already done, firing employees and raising park fees.
Although visits to the parks have increased in recent years to 12 million in 2009, state funding from the general fund has fallen from $6.7 million in 2009 to $2.6 million in 2010 to likely $0 next year, putting the park system in dire financial straits.
Coloradoâ€™s state parks are of enormous value to the state and its residents. The parks provide residents with recreational opportunities, hold soul-renewing aesthetic value, protect some of Coloradoâ€™s ecology and regulate utilitarian access to natural resources like water, oil, gas and other minerals.
With such complex and conflicting conservation missions, the state parks must be careful moving forward with any decision to exploit the minerals and oils that lie beneath the surface.
Parks must find a way to survive without state general funding, and having extraction operations on the table is a good move. But the park system should strongly consider other options before turning to oil and mineral drilling.
Even if such operations were to take place initially only in remote corners of the parks, once in place these systems will gain technological momentum and the park system will come to rely on those revenues as a permanent, not stopgap, revenue stream.
Additionally, any type of extraction will disrupt recreation, aesthetics and ecology on some level.
Coloradoâ€™s parks are only as good as the conservational integrity allows them to be. Extra money may be necessary to keep parks maintained and open, but we must be wary of the effects oil and gas extraction could have on park integrity.