Parks thrive on partnerships
Published 12:22 am Saturday, August 8, 2015
By Sandra Burroughs and Philip Darden
The Alabama State Parks System has survived almost all Mother Nature can muster to throw against it – hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires.
There is a threat looming now that brings the very survival of the entire State Parks System into question. This threat is not a natural disaster, but a funding crisis that seems to show up every year. In these still-relatively tough economic times, the Alabama Legislature has too often dipped into State Parks coffers to prop up other areas of the budget – this has happened the last four years, to be exact. Robbing Peter to pay Paul only works when Paul’s pockets aren’t empty.
Less than 10 percent of the parks system’s funding comes from tax dollars, but that money is critical for maintenance and remodeling that is necessary to keep our 22 state parks attractive to visitors. The other 90 percent of the funding used by the system comes from user fees.
Our parks could not exist without a legion of dedicated volunteers who freely give their time performing all kinds of services so that they and their fellow citizens can enjoy getting into Alabama the Beautiful via one of our state parks. One-quarter of the parks’ employees are volunteers. The Alabama State Parks Partners is another volunteer group that has emerged to support the parks system. A growing coalition of almost 100 businesses, outdoors enthusiasts and chambers of commerce in Alabama has come together with the goal of supporting our natural wonderland that is open to all in the form of our 22 state parks.
The Alabama State Park Partners aim to work together to engage the public and remind them that the Alabama State Parks System is a powerful economic engine and our state’s most spectacular quality-of-life attraction.
If you are not a member of this coalition, please visit our website and Facebook page (www.alparkspartners.com and www.Facebook.com/ALStateParksPartners) and join the good fight. There is no charge to become a member of the coalition. The ongoing goal of our work is to provide long-term, sustainable support to the parks system that serves all interests. That’s who the park system really is at the end of the day – something for everyone.
The more than 4.6 million visitors to our parks – half coming from out of state – have a $375 million annual economic impact on Alabama. With a fully funded Alabama State Parks System, those numbers should continue to grow even more.
In this past spring’s regular session, budgets floated by state legislators took sharp aim at the parks’ funding. If one proposed budget had gone into effect, it could have resulted in the closure of a number of state parks. That budget proposal failed and now Gov. Robert Bentley has called a special session to address the terrific budget shortfall. It is imperative that our legislators understand that our parks deserve to be fully funded annually. Alabama’s state parks provide a substantial return on a very small investment to our state and its people.
Make sure you speak to your representatives in Montgomery and share your concern for the parks.
Philip Darden is president of Central Alabama Mountain Pedalers and Sandra Burroughs is Legislative Affairs and Membership Director at Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association.