Florala State Park to close

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 1, 2015


It is unclear exactly what Wednesday’s announcement from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) that it plans to close Florala and four other state parks means locally.

There are few barriers to entry at Lake Jackson, and barring quick construction of a very large fence, it is unlikely people will stop boating or swimming there as a result of the announcement.

“I don’t know what it means yet, but it is extremely frustrating,” Florala Mayor Robert Williamson said.

Inquiries to state parks officials were not returned yesterday.

Closing the park, one of the smallest in the state, does mean that bathroom facilities will be locked, and the RV park will be closed. Williamson said he can’t imagine that will help state budgets.

In September, on its third try, the state legislature approved a General Fund budget that included cuts to several agencies. In light of those cuts, the Alabama State Parks System announced yesterday it would close five parks, reduce staff and operational hours at additional parks and facilities, and possible lease another facility to a concessionaire.

Also announced yesterday were closures of 31 satellite driver’s license offices and a total of 25 National Guard armories – six more than originally included in a 25-year master plan that runs through 2017. Neither of those decisions affect locations in Covington County.

“The five parks that are closing have nothing to do with funding,” Williamson said. “Their budgets are so miniscule, and the areas that are affected have a cumulative population base of about 11,000. This is the epitome of manipulation. They spent more money on the two special sessions than they’ll save closing these parks.”

Florala’s Lake Jackson – the only natural (i.e., not spring-fed) lake in the state – was deeded to the parks system in 1970. Williamson said the city already does some maintenance at the park, and likely will be forced to do more.

“The good news is, this is not happening in the growing season,” he said.

Williamson said the city also will pursue opportunities to manage the revenue-generating aspects of the park.

“We can’t mismanage it any worse than they have,” he said.

Gunter Guy, Commissioner of Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said, “These five parks were selected for closure because they have consistently lost money over the past several years. However, the Alabama State Park system is important to the majority of the people in this state and I hope that we can find a solution to this budget issue by the next legislative session.”

The other parks are Bladon Springs, Paul Grist, Chickasaw, and Roland Cooper. In addition, Rickwood Caverns and Blue Springs will be closed during fall and winter; Desoto and Cheaha Lodge and Restaurant will operate on weekends only during fall and winter; the system will attempt to transfer Lakepoint’s golf course to a concessionaire, and if that is unsuccessful, the golf course will be closed; and Bucks Pocket campground will close, with transition to an unmanned, day-use only park to be managed by a nearby resort park.

Guy said the ADCNR is not a General Fund agency. However, the legislature has transferred money from ADCNR to the General Fund for five consecutive years to support other state programs.

The park system also announced that day fees at parks will increase from $4 per adult to $5 per adult (smaller parks with fewer amenities may receive a different fee structure). There will be an 8 percent increase on select base lodging rates, coupled with a new 5 percent discount for Alabama residents. Marina slip rentals will increase and new resort fees will be added.