Some parks services could endPublished 12:00am Friday, March 29, 2013
Some services could be eliminated at state parks across Alabama – including those locally – and operating hours could be cut because of budget problems, the state conservation department says.
State parks director Gregory Lien has written a letter to community leaders warning them that local stores selling everything from picnic supplies to camping gear could see reduced sales.
Parks can’t operate solely on the money they generate, which they have been forced to do, parks officials said Tuesday. Lein’s letter says the revenue reduction could force closures, cuts in personnel and cancellation of renovation projects.
Covington County is home to two state parks – Florala State Park and Lake Frank Jackson State Park in Opp.
In Florala, there are two full-time employees that work the 40-acre park. There are two full-time and two part-time employees at the 2,050-acre park in Opp, which boasts 32 RV campsites with wi-fi and cable services.
Employees at each site said they’ve received no official word as to what the future holds for their park.
“The state parks are not designed to make money. They are preserved lands for the people of Alabama,” said Curtis Jones, deputy commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the department that operates state parks.
“All we’re trying to do is get the message out it could drastically affect our parks and our operations,” Jones said.
The letter does not include specific information about changes planned at individual parks. Jones said a plan for cutbacks is in the works and changes could begin early this summer.
“We’ve got three phases we’re looking at,” Jones said. “I don’t have the liberty to release that right now.”
User fees traditionally generate about 90 percent of the money to operate state parks. Those fees declined after the Gulf oil spill reduced visitation to Gulf State Park in 2010 and after tornadoes in April 2011 damaged parks in north Alabama and they weren’t visited as much.
In addition, the Legislature for the last two years has found other uses for $5 million in state tax revenue that had traditionally gone to the parks.
That practice was supposed to end this fiscal year, but legislation is pending in the current session to keep moving the money to other uses through fiscal 2014.
In addition, $2 million in tobacco taxes that went to the parks has also been shifted to other programs.
Gov. Robert Bentley said Tuesday some parks may have to close or cut hours.
“We are still working through that and trying to come up with a solution,” Bentley said.