- Associated Press - Saturday, March 11, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire’s tourism efforts and parks system would no longer be under the same roof if Gov. Chris Sununu’s budget plan is enacted.

The Republican wants to break up the Division for Resources and Economic Development, splitting apart the two divisions that have historically worked hand-in-hand to promote New Hampshire’s outdoor attractions. Sununu would instead create a Department of Business and Economic Affairs, including tourism, and one of Natural and Cultural Resources, which would include parks and forests.

Sununu says the change is meant to put a greater focus on economic development and to put all of New Hampshire’s attractions, from parks to the state library, together. But some longtime tourism advocates say the parks system is an important economic development piece and that the two branches should stay together.

“I always felt that parks and tourism and forestry and economic development really went well together,” said George Bald, a former 13-year commissioner for the Division for Resources and Economic Development. “We need to have a nice clean environment and that will help us to attract business.”

The travel and tourism division is in charge of marketing the state and attracting visitors. Parks and recreation, meanwhile, manages 92 properties including beaches, campgrounds and trails. More than 1.2 million people visited park properties last year.

“Our parks are one of our biggest drivers of tourism,” Division for Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeff Rose said. “When we’re marketing our state, oftentimes we’re talking about the state’s most majestic and scenic resources.”

Parks would still be a key piece of New Hampshire’s tourism promotion under the new setup, but it’s unclear how exactly the divisions would work together. Dick Hamilton, past president of the White Mountains Attractions Association and a former Division advisory council member, worries the new setup would put a diminished focus on parks and recreation. It would share the new department with libraries, historical resources, film and more.

Sununu’s budget does increase the parks and recreation budget by several million to $31 million annually. And he’s put in some more money for promotion and marketing of various state resources.

His office didn’t provide a specific comment on why he chose to break parks away from tourism.

“The governor believes that travel and tourism is one of the most important sectors of the economy and needs to be an integral part of any discussion focused on the economic development of our state. The division has, historically, worked collaboratively across state government and will continue to do so,” spokesman Dave Abrams said in a statement.

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