Audit: State parks should have more sites for motor homes, fewer cabins

The Columbus Dispatch •

Ohio should create more camp sites for RV’s and motor homes in state parks, and dump 29 less profitable cabins, a new performance audit by state Auditor Dave Yost recommends.

The changes could generate more than $3.3 million in average annual returns and $3.8 million in one-time cost avoidance, says the audit, one of a series conducted at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“Smarter planning and capital investment works just as well in the woods as it does in the city,” Yost said in a statement. “Ohio has an opportunity to enhance the outdoor experience in our beautiful state parks for many years to come.”

Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer said, “We at ODNR appreciate the growing desire among Ohioans to have the opportunity to enjoy the state’s amazing open spaces and we are eager to provide them with the facilities that will enhance their experience while they are there.”

The 29 cabins are those experiencing an operating loss out of the state park system’s current 292. They are located at Pymatuning (9); Pike Lake (8); Buck Creek (5); Cowan Lake and Lake Hope (3 each); and Hocking Hills (1).

“The majority of cabins have already technically exceeded their original useful life estimates and are represented as negative values. Further, a large number of additional cabins at Hocking Hills will cross the end of useful life threshold within the next three years. Though most cabins have exceeded their expected useful life, all are still in service,” Yost’s audit found.

“However, through active management and careful financial evaluation, especially when considering investment opportunities, parks can further improve the profitability of its cabin operation.”

The audit shows that state park campgrounds sites with full hook-ups are occupied a median of 40 percent of the time. Camp sites with electricity are occupied about 18 percent, and non-electric sites less than 6 percent. Only 12 parks have full hook-up sites, with a median of a dozen at each of those parks.

“Parks may have an opportunity to meet customer demand for full hook-up sites by increasing not only the total number of full hook-up sites, but also the park locations offering them,” the report said.

The park agency already has earmarked $15 million for cabin improvements – each will cost an estimated $132,100 to renovation – and $10 million for campgrounds improvements from capital money approved last year.