State Parks Worth the Investment for Health and Wellness

State Parks are treasured destinations where diverse outdoor experiences abound. For many families, state parks offer their foremost opportunities for interacting with nature. Biking, walking, fishing, camping, bird watching, swimming and so many more activities are available for anyone to enjoy because of an abundance of state parks throughout the Midwest that are both accessible and affordable. 

In Missouri, state parks are free for everyone to enjoy. You must pay to camp, but other than that, there is no fee to enter. This applies to both residents and non-residents of the state. Funds generated from a dedicated sales tax cover the operating costs of the state parks, thus offering anyone from anywhere with an opportunity to connect with nature. 

Most states charge fees to enter their parks. Those fees are often different for residents and non-residents. While these fees are most often reasonable, for some they are a barrier to entry. This keeps people from connecting with nature. It’s proven that time spent outdoors improves both physical and mental health. Why more states don’t find a way to replicate what Missouri offers is beyond me. 

We are too often a reactionary society. We put off going to the dentist until we have a cavity. We take our car to the mechanic after it breaks. Many of these decisions are related to money. Since most people are barely scraping by, they don’t spend money on what’s not broken. Even though it would make more sense financially to make preventative improvements. Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  

Indiana is a state that charges visitors to enter state parks. Again, compared to what other experiences cost, the parks are reasonable. But imagine if they were free. I get it. Nothing is free. The money must come from somewhere and no one wants new or increased taxes. What if a little money was reappropriated? What if a tiny portion of the state’s budget spent on health and human services was reallocated to open state parks for free to all? And an even smaller portion of tax revenues were spent to increase promotion of the use of state parks. I believe the decrease in health-related issues taxpayers end up on the hook for would decrease if more people were out walking trails instead of watching tv. Or if more kids had free access to lakes for fishing and swimming, perhaps a few less would end up on a path to drug and alcohol abuse. Which ultimately devastates our society in many ways, including economically.

Physical and mental health are not brake pads on a car. As a society we shouldn’t treat the wellbeing of people as something to be dealt with after it breaks. Sadly, we do. For the most part, I have no idea what my taxes are spent on. As I’m growing older, I’m becoming more and more concerned with figuring it out, because the waste I’m aware of is unfathomable. For my own mental it would be better to just leave it alone. To stay in the dark. I can’t. I’m just not wired that way. 

Two taxes I understand and am happy to pay, are the Missouri Conservation Sales Tax and the Missouri Parks, Soils, and Water Tax. At 1/8 of cent and 1/10 of a cent respectively, these two taxes benefit society directly by providing a healthier lifestyle, healthier water, and healthier soils. For $20 or so a year of personal contribution, I couldn’t think of a better investment. And each time I see a group of kids playing in a Missouri State Park, I am thankful for every citizen who has voted to self-impose these taxes. Benjamin Franklin would be proud of Missourians. 

Indiana is kicking off “Visit Indiana Week” by waiving the entrance fee for all Indiana state parks, state recreation areas, and reservoirs on May 19. The daily gate fee will be waived for all guests on Sunday, but other fees for onsite services may still apply. If you’re a Hoosier who hasn’t visited a state park in a while and you’re wondering what you may be missing, this Sunday is a great time to explore one of the many wonderful properties around the state. 

According to a recent Indiana DNR press release, visitors can expect to find many new features and improvements across the State Park system this season. The fire tower at Tippecanoe River State Park, which I climbed many times in my youth, has been restored. At Brown County State Park, which is a premiere Midwestern state park, regardless of which state you call home, seven fully remodeled family cabins and nine renovated rustic cabins have been improved. At my all-time favorite state park, Potato Creek, where much of my early love of nature was born, the campground dumping stations have been improved. Multiple properties have developed or improved pollinator habitats and have removed acres of invasive species. 

Take some time to visit a local state park and consider all the benefits these properties provide. Then ask yourself, if a collective investment would be worth it to open these parks to all free of charge. I think the answer is a resounding yes. 

See you down the trail….
Brandon Butler
bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com

Pic: State Parks offer access to nature which improves physical and mental health. 

For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast HERE or anywhere podcasts are streamed. 

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