State Park Investment Commission
Visitation in Maryland’s State Parks has increased significantly over the course of the last several decades, as evidenced by a steady rise in the number of full-to-capacity park / area closures at parks with water access, resulting in a corresponding loss of access to State Parks for many. Over the same period, park staffing has not kept pace, and has even declined, and the backlog of critical maintenance and capital projects continues to grow; the critical maintenance backlog alone currently exceeds $68 million, before adjusting for inflation.
In the context of State Park attendance setting records year after year since the start of the 21st Century, the closure of most other recreational and leisure outlets and activities in 2020 led to an unprecedented surge of over 21.5 million visits to state parks, which remained open and staffed by essential employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. This 45% increase over the previous record, set in 2019, strained park staff and overwhelmed aging infrastructure, and nearly quadrupled the 10-year average number of park closures (292 vs. 79). When this trend continued unabated into 2021, it caught the attention of key members of the Maryland General Assembly, who called for the establishment of the State Park Investment Commission, with a charge to study and evaluate our State Park system.
The State Park Investment Commission was announced on August 6, 2021 by Senate President Bill Ferguson and Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones, and is chaired by former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening. Members of the Commission are: House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, Appropriations Vice Chair Mark Chang, Delegate Regina Boyce, Delegate Jeff Ghrist, Senate Capital Budget Chair Craig Zucker, Senator Sarah Elfreth, Senator Obie Patterson and Senator George Edwards.
The Commission will investigate and make recommendations regarding overcrowding in Maryland State parks, including:
the adequacy of existing State park facilities to meet demand for recreational opportunities in the State;
levels of operating funding and staff for existing State parks, as well as the need for capital funding to provide a high-quality experience to park visitors;
the need for new State park offerings and any recreational deserts across Maryland; and
the extent to which State parks and associated recreational opportunities are adequately accessible to all populations of Marylanders, including low-income Marylanders, those who lack access to a car, and Marylanders with disabilities.