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Ohio natural resources agency says proposed budget cuts could mean less safety at state parks

 Upper Falls at Old Man’s Cave
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Upper Falls at Old Man's Cave is one of several waterfalls that draw in visitors to Hocking Hills State Park near Logan in southeast Ohio.

The busiest time of year for Ohio’s 75 state parks is approaching – summer. But the agency that operates them didn’t get a warm reception from the Ohio House, which voted to cut more than $55 million from the budget increase that Gov. Mike DeWine proposed.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources director Mary Mertz said most of the cuts will hit one particular area that visitors want most, according to state surveys.

“They want to feel welcome and they want to feel safe. And we hear comments from many people where they say, 'I never saw a ranger. Why did I go through that park and I never saw a ranger?'" Mertz said.

More law enforcement wouldn't guarantee safety, Mertz said, but “we think having more of a presence will make people think twice before they go past that big sign that says ‘dangerous cliffs, don't go here.’ We can't have someone stationed there 24/7. But by having more presence in the parks, we think people will make safer choices. We'll have quicker response time.”

And the funding cut could mean slower response times when safety issues arise, Mertz said.

For example, campground disputes, which are pretty common, can occasionally result in arrests, Mertz said. She noted a recent domestic violence dispute between a couple staying at the campground at East Fork State Park in southwest Ohio. The man claimed to be armed and made threats against an officer. The man was arrested and his four-month-old baby was turned over to child protective services.

"Our officers work so closely with local law enforcement, but we can't put all the burden on them," Mertz said. "They're strapped as it is, and we don't want to burden them further. So this law enforcement piece is really important."

Mertz is hoping the ODNR cuts will be restored in the Senate version of the budget, which is due out after Memorial Day.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at
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