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We’re careful about allowing private use of state parks

From A. Bradley Ives, Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in response to “Private rental of public parks? No” (Our View, July 30) and Kevin Siers’ July 29 editorial cartoon:

The attention regarding the request to allow a classic-car hill climb at Pilot Mountain State Park has raised several issues. North Carolina state parks protect, and make available for public use and enjoyment, the best places our great state has to offer. We fully understand the parks and their facilities belong to each and every North Carolinian, including those who are interested in using them for new or non-traditional purposes.

State parks are integral parts of their communities. They support quality of life for citizens and are key in the travel and tourism industries, especially in rural parts of the state. For that reason, state parks have a responsibility to consider and thoroughly evaluate requests from all groups.

Sections of state parks are sometimes closed for special events and activities, including triathlons, charity walks, and even the occasional movie shoot – most recently 2013’s “Meet the Millers.” As in those situations, a hill climb would represent a boost to the economy through local tourism, lodging, retail and food service. But in every case, granting a permit involves meeting many conditions, including visitor impacts, natural resource protections and legal compliance.

There have been irresponsible allegations that political connections have played a role in the decision-making process for the issuance of a permit for this event. As the person responsible for making the decision, I want to be clear that I have had no contact with the applicants or anyone acting on their behalf. Additionally, I have been under no political pressure to make any special accommodations in this case or any other. Insinuations otherwise may make for attention-grabbing headlines and ostensibly clever cartoons, but they simply are not true and do a disservice to the event sponsors.

A discussion about whether our state parks should continue to be used for special events (as city and county parks often are) is an important one. We will continue to be receptive and open-minded when reviewing new ideas and proposals for the use of a public resource, but we also will be careful. Approval of a permit will only occur if the merits of the application are deemed beneficial to the state and its citizens. That is the sign of a customer-service oriented and responsible government agency.

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