Long-term plan needed for park

Published 12:39 am Wednesday, October 14, 2015

State budget cuts could become one of the best things that ever happened to Florala in modern times.

Last month, Gov. Robert Bentley announced that Florala State Park was one of five in the state that would close as a result of cuts to the 2016 General Fund budget.

But a reversionary clause dating to the 1970s, when the city gave the land to the state to become a park, mean that the city gets the land – and all fixed improvements – back. That means that, come Oct. 16, the city should be the proud owner of an almost-brand-new meeting facility located at the lake.

While it would seem that the transfer of property in a period of the year when grass doesn’t grow much and lake traffic slows would mean there’s nothing pressing for the city to decide, there is much to do, and some of it is immediate. Already, there are people in the RV park who winter here each year. They’ve received conflicting messages – parks officials told them they’d be evicted; city officials say, “We need you, stay.”

But staying means they need to ensure that basic services remain in place – like access to power, water, and cable. They’re wondering how they’ll do laundry if, as parks officials have told them, the state removes washers and dryers from the laundry facility. They wonder what to tell their Canadian friends who are prepared to drive 1,800 miles to winter here, too. And they wonder who folks who pull their RVs into the park should pay.

These seasonal visitors have already proven they are valuable assets to their part-time community, approaching local officials to say, “We’ll volunteer.” One only has to drive a few miles to Opp to see the impact volunteers can have on a park, and it will be important for full-time Florala residents to also take an interest.

We’ve been told the transfer of property could help the small city land a hotel – a task they’ve pursued for years. Having control of the land adjacent to the lake is an important first step, and those who’ve been involved in past efforts to attract a hotel say that access to the meeting facility is key in that effort.

To ensure the highest and best use of all the facilities that go with the park, and to formulate a plan for all that details that will need to be handled, the community needs many minds to come together to focus on the short-term and long-term issues associated with their new ownership.

Lake Jackson is the town’s best asset, and attracts many people there each year. It also provides a beautiful backdrop for residents and special events, all of which improve the quality of life.

But for it to remain the best asset, someone has to cut the grass, patrol the litter, provide maintenance on the facilities, and monitor their use.

We hope the city will move cautiously and thoughtfully in crafting plans for the park, and that residents will be interested in volunteering time and energy to continually improve it for locals and visitors alike.