By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, September 30, as expected, the Alabama State Parks announced that several smaller unprofitable State parks will close permanently in a cost saving measure.
On October 15, the Alabama State Parks System announced that five parks will be closed: Bladon Springs, Paul Grist, Chickasaw, Florala and Roland Cooper.
Alabama Department of conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Gunter Guy said in a statement, “It is with great disappointment that we have to make this announcement today. Due to these recurring administrative transfers by the Legislature from our department and the impact they’re having on our state parks system’s budget, we are having to make some very difficult decisions to offset the loss of revenue. 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 Parks also announced that Rickwood Caverns and Blue Springs will be closed during fall and winter; Desoto and Cheaha Lodge & Restaurant will operate on weekends only during fall and winter; and Parks will try to unload Lakepoint State Park in Eufaula’s golf course. Failing that they will close the golf course. Bucks Pocket State Park is going to close the campground and will transition to an unmanned, day-use only park to be managed by a nearby resort park.
The Director of the Alabama State Parks System Greg Lein said in a statement, “Closing parks, reducing operations and laying off staff was something we hoped we could avoid. However, as we have said for the past several months publicly, we can’t afford to run our current system with a continued loss of revenue due to this chronic problem of legislative transfers from our parks division to the General Fund Budget. These closures are going to negatively impact our State – from the citizens in the communities where they exist, to the dedicated staff at these parks who have worked so hard serving the public for many years.”
Lien and Alapark administrators blame the legislature and the general fund budgeting process for their lack of funds. The parks make their money in the summer and use that money to carry them through to the Spring each year. For the last five years, park fee money was transferred from the parks to prop up the State General Fund (SGF). Parks officials had asked that no money be transferred this year. The legislature transferred $3 million to the SGF anyway.
On Wednesday, September 23 the Alabama State Parks said in an email to park supporters. “The Legislature has concluded their budgeting effort for FY2016 and made their decision to transfer funds from our Department for a fifth year in a row. They make the state’s laws, and we must find ways to implement them.”
A plan by Senator Clay Scofield (R-Arab) that would have saved the parks by transferring income earmarked for Forever Wild to purchase more and more land was rejected by a House Committee during the First Special Session after Lien and Guy both opposed the legislation.
Senators Scofield and Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) and Representative Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile) have proposed 2016 legislation to give the Parks System revenue from specialty boat license plates.