CONCORD, N.H. – Not every state park in New Hampshire includes a mountain, but all staffers might be wearing pictures of little peaks on their uniforms next summer thanks to a corporate sponsorship the state is exploring with Eastern Mountain Sports.

Faced with widening budget gaps, numerous states are reaching out to private companies to sponsor state park facilities, programs or park systems as a whole. The details are still being worked out in New Hampshire, but the intent is to have Eastern Mountain Sports promote state parks in its outdoor clothing and apparel stores in exchange for having state parks promote the company’s products. That could mean park uniforms featuring the Mountain Sports logo, the company’s name arranged in the shape of a mountain range.

Maine, Virginia and Georgia are among other states that either have or are looking into some kind of sponsorship with corporations to support state parks.

“There’s a very fine line you try to walk in doing this,” said Gary Waugh, a state official in Virginia. “People come to state parks for a very natural outdoor experience and you don’t want to commercialize it. On the other hand, budgets are tight.”

Unlike in other states, New Hampshire’s park system hasn’t had its state funding cut because it doesn’t get any — relying solely on user fees. But even before the economy worsened, revenues typically fell well short of operating expenses, and the system faces a $1.8 million deficit.

In a 10-year strategic plan published late last year, park officials urged lawmakers to consider providing annual funding but said the state also should invite communities or volunteer groups to help maintain the parks. Ted Austin, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, said a corporate partnership is in keeping with the mandate he’s under to explore new models for collaborating with both the public and private sector.

He approached Eastern Mountain Sports in February about a partnership and began announcing it earlier this summer, though nothing has been put in writing, and its unclear whether further approval is required by state officials.

“My rationale was simply: Things you sell in your stores can wonderfully be put to good use in our parks, and activities in our parks can be thoroughly enjoyed with things you sell. So in its simplest sense, it struck me as this should be a no-brainer,” Austin said in a recent interview.

In addition to uniforms, Austin envisions Eastern Mountain Sports providing kayaking lessons or other programs in state parks. In stores, a “park of the future” contest might invite young people to suggest new programs and features. That could attract more active outdoor enthusiasts who now bypass the parks, he said.

Austin said the sponsorship plan is particularly attractive given the company’s reach: Eastern Mountain Sports has more than 60 stores in New England and the mid-Atlantic region.


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