Short-term park closings are long-term losses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Despite a voter-approved Constitutional Amendment to divert millions from the Alabama Trust Fund and shore up the state’s General Fund budget, that budget is still bleeding.

And now its next victim may be our state parks, two of which are in Covington County, if proposed budget cuts of $7.8 million from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are approved and the money moved to the General Fund.

Alabama Parks Director Gregory Lein last week wrote a letter explaining how, if these cuts come, the agency will have to close parks and lay off employees.

In Covington County, that would mean the loss of four full-time and two part-time jobs, as well as tax dollars spent by tourists who visit the two parks.

State legislators have advised park officials to “stop whining and take their medicine,” and to operate like a business.

But parks aren’t supposed to be businesses. Traditionally, 90 percent of their operating expenses are covered by fees to use the parks. But Alabamians also pay for recreational opportunities with their tax dollars. Preserving the lands for the people of Alabama is a function of the park system, whether they have historic significance or offer recreational opportunities.

The state’s investment was in quality of life, just as our local cities invest in parks and other recreational opportunities to enhance quality of life.

While we understand that Alabama has some bitter medicine to swallow – in cuts or higher taxes – we find the thinking of those who would just close the parks short-sighted. Legislators should think long-term before arbitrarily closing state parks that were never designed to make money.

Opp Mayor John Bartholomew this week called on local residents to contact state Sen. Jimmy Holley and state Rep. Mike Jones to register support for Lake Frank Jackson. No doubt, Florala Mayor Robert Williamson would encourage the same thing.

The parks pay an important role in the local quality of life, and it would be a shame to let them be closed or fall into disrepair.