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Ga. parks shouldn't be forgotten by families or legislators

Several people have recently been heard to comment that because of either time or finances, summer vacations for their clans are on the calendar.

We’d encourage you to consider a summer getaway using one of Georgia’s state parks. Both inexpensive and close to home, our state parks and other outdoor recreation areas offer a wide variety of activities and places to relax.

From nearby Amicalola Falls, which makes a great day trip, to the beach at Vogel not far north, to areas on lakes Lanier and Allatoona, it’s possible to have a great weekend for less than $200 – inexpensive tent, gas and food included.

While a trip to the beach may be nice, that weekend spent with your family hiking, exploring, and wading in creeks may ultimately do more for your mental state. With a growing percentage of daily lives consumed in front of some form of technology, the opportunity to “get back to nature,” so to speak, is dwindling.

Research and personal experience show that spending time in the great outdoors, even if the exposure is just a paved walking path, increases our attention spans and creative thinking abilities while lowering stress and burning a few calories.

In Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, the author coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder to describe his belief that many of the social problems affecting children today stem from too much time online and too little time outside.

It would seem that with families watching budgets more closely than ever, now is the perfect time for the state to promote park options. But the idea of a “staycation” seems as forgotten as last year’s Jersey Shore plot lines. Tourism is continually touted as a great economic development booster, yet the state is failing to follow through by promoting local resources that might entice people to stay and see Georgia this summer.

Rather than sprucing up and promoting Georgia parks, the legislature has put its budget-cutting sights squarely on these natural assets. In the latest legislative session, allocations to these close-to-home summer getaways shrank considerably (as much as 40 percent in one estimate), forcing some parks to close some features on some days and to cut back services in most all venues.

A member of our editorial staff found one federal park campground near LaFayette (The Pocket) inexplicably closed earlier this summer. The same budget woes hindering parks on the state level are hitting federal parks, too, it seems.

The volunteer group Friends of Georgia State Parks has published a long list of needs they seek to supply in the face of what they call a $100 million maintenance backlog at parks and historic sites in Georgia. Items they are trying to cover for the state aren’t frivolous extras but essentials like repairing handrails and maintaining trails.

Well aware of the public cry to cut taxes, we can’t blame lawmakers for cutting back on parks, but we wonder if a more prudent approach might be trying to run parks like businesses to see if there is a way to make them self-sustaining or at least much closer to break-even.

Resorts like Disney can keep raising prices, but for the good of everyone, there needs to be a low-cost option that allows anybody to get out and enjoy the woods. Back to the days of President Teddy Roosevelt, this country has seen the good of providing public wild spaces. Roosevelt said parks furnish “essential democracy” by preserving wilderness and scenery for all citizens.

In 2011, with stuff like social online media occupying more and more of our lives, it’s increasingly important for our state to maintain the natural attractions and outdoor recreation opportunities that we, the taxpayers, have already bought.

And as for us taxpayers, 2011 is a great time to explore what Georgia parks already have to offer.

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