Parks funding in voters’ hands

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Alabama residents will have the opportunity to vote in the Nov. 8 general election on a constitutional amendment to protect the state park system’s funding from being transferred to the general fund.

According to a press release, the bill passed the Senate on March 22 and passed the House on April 20.

“This is a big moment for our State Parks System,” said Natalie Kelly, an Alabama Parks Partner steering committee member and founder of Sustain. “We’re one major step closer to ensuring our state parks are fully funded – permanently. The parks have seen millions transferred to the General Fund in the last five years. I’m proud of legislators understand what a priority our state parks are, and I’m excited to continue engaging communities and citizens throughout Alabama to help get this constitutional amendment passed in November.”

State parks like Opp’s Frank Jackson State Park are fee-based operations, in which 80-90 percent of its revenue comes directly form guest fees.

Last year, Frank Jackson State Park was on a punch list of parks set to close while the legislature discussed budget woes.

The park survived the cuts and has become a model for other state parks, thanks to the Frank Jackson Trailmasters.

Chris Jones, park manager at Frank Jackson State Park said giving the people the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment is one of the best things he’s heard in his tenure with the state parks.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “We are going to vote on it in November and I hope the people are going to vote yes. It keeps everything we make here in the park. (Legislators) have been raiding our funds for years. We just about had to close this park last year, but thankfully we didn’t. I’m real excited about this. It’s some of the best news I’ve heard since I’ve been with the state parks.”

Jones said this enables state parks employees to have secure jobs.

“And we have had to worry about every year losing our jobs,” he said. “It’s been a rough five to 10 years.”

Last year there was public outcry when five parks closed and other were forced to cut services and limit hours of operation.

The change came after the Legislature had transferred $15 million from the state parks budget to the General Fund budget over the last five years to help finance other areas of government.

The parks had exhausted all reserve funds and were continually seeing money earned at parks transferred to the General Fund.

Florala State Park was one of the parks the state chose to close, but it has since been transferred to the city of Florala.

Jones said Frank Jackson State Park is doing better now than it has ever.

“We’ve had the best April we’ve had,” he said. “We did have a price increase,” he said. “A lot of people are upset about that. We are having a lot of people getting out since the weather is warming up. If you’re over 64, the price is $2 and for adults it’s $4.”

Jones said the campsites and the new camper cabins are really doing well and they’ve had people from all over, as well as locals taking advantage of the facilities.

Opp Mayor John Bartholomew was thrilled.

“Frank Jackson State Park is a vital part of Opp, and we nearly lost it last year,” he said. “I’m glad to see that the Alabama Legislature is working on a solution that will protect our park and others throughout Alabama. I do not think Gov. Robert Bentley truly realized last year that our state park is a major source of revenue here in Opp. The people who visit the park come into town to buy supplies, they eat in our restaurants and buy fuel.”