Northeast Alabama officials weigh in on impact of potential state park closures

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

NORTHEAST ALABAMA (WHNT) -- If the potential closure of three northeast Alabama state parks becomes a reality, officials say it would have a substantial economic impact on the respective areas.

Fifteen Alabama State Parks are set for potential closure by the 2016 fiscal year. DeSoto, Lake Guntersville, and Bucks Pocket are in northeast Alabama. Officials say they are big economic drivers for the area.

DeSoto State Park is a piece in the puzzle that is tourist destinations in DeKalb County, generating a substantial amount of revenue each year. "Millions of dollars," DeKalb County Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jimmy Durham says.

He says the park has been a tourism draw since the 1930s. "One thing that everybody is talking about now is 'how can we do without it', you know as far as drawing tourism into the state and into our local area, it's just a huge asset."

Marshall County has its counterpart in Lake Guntersville State Park. "We entertain corporate executives out there all the time," Marshall County Economic Development Council President Matt Arnold says, "We'll be doing that next week."

Arnold says they use the park for business recruitment and visitors from around the world pack it year round. "It's a huge draw to Marshall County, and it's going to have a major impact if this were somehow to close," Arnold says.

Bucks Pocket sits in Marshall, DeKalb, and Jackson Counties, and officials say that's another draw to bring in visitors. Officials say job loss would also be substantial.

Officials with the Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau say the potential closures will affect dollars spent in the rest of the county as well.

“As a county tourism organization, the closure of the parks will have a negative impact on our ability to recruit and bring large conferences and tournaments to the area, which impacts not just one city but all cities in our county,” Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Katy Norton says, “This closure will reduce our budget by more than 25% which will cripple our ability to market our county.”

CVB officials say in the city of Guntersville alone, the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge and other facilities make up an average 33.4 percent of the city’s overall lodging tax.

Officials say when the Marshall County CVB brings large tournaments and conferences to the area the visitors also spend dollars in restaurants, retail stores and convenience stores increasing not just lodging tax but sales and gasoline taxes.

Governor Bentley is expected to address Marshall County officials and leaders on Monday at the Lake Guntersville State Park. He is expected to discuss the State's general fund and its impact in Marshall County, and his solution to address it.