GROVE OAK, Ala. - First came the state budget, then came state park closures and reductions. While these changes were set to go into effect on October 15, they’ve been pushed back to next month. The state decided to close five state parks, but none here in the Tennessee Valley. However, Buck's Pocket State Park is counting down the weeks until the stunning piece of nature will shut down their campgrounds and lose all staff.
“I’m tearing up right now,” shares long time camper Russ Harton. “It’s terrible and we’ve raised out kids here.”
Harton is sitting by a smoldering campfire. He is joined with a few other couples for an annual weekend getaway. Harton and his family have come to visit Buck’s Pocket State Park for more than two decades and the thought of countless family memories coming to an end is unnerving.
“I think my tax money is being misused, along with all my friends tax money,” protests Harton. “This is why we pay taxes, it’s for things like state parks. These are our parks, and it really upsets all of us to know our kids can no longer come here.”
The park is literally home two employees. Park manager Bruce Aldridge has made memories with families visiting for nearly thirty years.
“I’ve lived here and worked here for 27 years,” shared Aldridge. “I’ve raised a family here. Words... you just can’t even put it into words.”
Come Monday, Nov.16, the campground will be gated up by the state due to budget cuts.
“It’s made a lot of people mad because nobody is explaining why,” said Aldridge.
In addition to becoming a day park only, Aldridge and the other employee will be relocated to Guntersville State Park, leaving Buck’s Pocket abandoned and unmanned.
The 200 acre state park is home to the only canyon going east and west in the eastern United States. The park also has campgrounds, fishing, kayaking, caves and more to explore.
Annual operation costs run $102,000 and the park generates roughly $30,000 a year.
Fall and spring are the busiest seasons for Buck’s Pocket. According to Aldridge, the campground generates roughly $1,500 per weekend during these times of year.
“Parks were not put here to be profit makers,” told Aldridge. “Parks were put here for the use of the public. Talking to politicians is one thing, but talk to the general public. Talk to the people who use the parks and get their input.”
Like camper Russ Harton, who said, “And for politicians to mismanage state funds so much is a disgrace and every one of them should be voted out of office.”
This is one man’s opinion fuelled by the ending of a cherished family tradition, a tradition celebrating one of north Alabama’s unique treasures.
The state will continue to run electricity to the park. This will cost about $500 a month.