State Looking Into Limited Privatization Of Some State Parks

Mar 4, 2014

Fall Creek Falls is Tennessee's largest and most-visited state park. It and ten other parks in the system are on a list being considered for partial privatization.
Credit Tennessee State Parks system

The agency that oversees the 54 locations within the Tennessee State Parks system is exploring the possibility of turning over some functions to private corporations. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) said the research is preliminary, but word of the project is ruffling feathers within a group that represents state employees.

Eleven state parks, including Fall Creek Falls, Harrison Bay, Warriors Path and Cumberland Mountain, are on a list of properties for which TDEC is looking to privatization as a cost-saving measure. Such a move wouldn't be unprecedented; some state parks already have gift shops, restaurants or other facilities that are managed or leased by private businesses.

But the plan isn't resting well with the head of the Tennessee State Employees Association.

“If those jobs were all contracted out to private corporations, those would all be lost, all those [state workers] would be laid off,” Bob O'Connell told the Nashville Tennessean. “They are trying to fix something that isn’t broken.”

O'Connell said state figures show the parks system is operating within its budget, and that layoffs could follow any privatization moves.

A spokeswoman for TDEC said any discussion about the effect of the plan on state workers is premature. So far, she said, all that's been done is a basic research proposal to investigate the possibilities.