5 state parks to close, others reduce staffing & hours following budget cuts

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. – As a result of budget cuts for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, the Alabama State Parks System will close five parks and make a number of other cuts that will go into effect in Oct., the department announced Wednesday.

Beginning Oct. 15, the following five parks will be closed: Bladon Springs, Paul Grist, Chickasaw, Florala and Roland Cooper.

“It is with great disappointment that we have to make this announcement today,” said Gunter Guy, Commissioner of Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “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.”

In addition to closing the five parks, the organization will reduce staff and operational hours at additional parks and park facilities. The department said those include: Rickwood Caverns and Blue Springs to be closed during fall and winter; Desoto and Cheaha Lodge & 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; closure of Bucks Pocket campground and transition to an unmanned, day-use only park to be managed by a nearby resort park.

“Closing parks, reducing operations and laying off staff was something we hoped we could avoid,” said Greg Lein, Director of Alabama State Parks System. “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.”

There will also be a number of additional revenue options implemented in October that include: day fees at parks will transition from $4 per adult to $5 per adult (smaller parks with fewer amenities may receive a different fee structure); eight percent increase on select base lodging rates, coupled with a new five percent discount for Alabama residents; increase in marina slip rentals; new resort fee to address resort maintenance costs not directly tied to other fee structures; new park pass program to capture the present unrealized day-use revenue in ungated parks; and a new backcountry permit to attend to trails and related backcountry recreational services/programs.

Over the past five years, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR,) a non-general fund agency, has transferred more than $30 million to the general fund to support other state programs, according to the department. The state parks system alone has been forced to transfer half of the $30 million from its division.

“We feel like we have been forced to attempt to make up some of the revenue we’re going to lose due to these continued transfers by implementing this contingency plan in advance of the slower fall and winter seasons,” said Lein. “I assure you this decision was not made without careful consideration. We spent months of tirelessly working to educate the public and legislature on the impact a fifth year of transfers would have on our system, while preparing for this worst case scenario by identifying measures that would have the most minimal impact on our staff, customers and the communities where we exist.  We will continue to work with all interested parties to educate everyone on the importance of securing permanent and protected funding that will ensure that the entire park system remains open for all Alabamians throughout this state.”