Amendment aims to protect state park funds
Published 1:44 pm Friday, August 12, 2016
By Briana Harris
PELHAM – If Amendment 2 is not passed during the general election on Nov. 8 more state parks are in jeopardy of shutting down, said Mickie Powell, a state parks activist and former chair of Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers.
During a community meeting held at Pelham Civic Complex on Aug. 10, Powell urged voters to vote yes on Amendment 2.
If passed by Alabama voters, Amendment 2 will ensure that funding earmarked for state parks remain in the state parks budget. Powell said the amendment will prevent those funds from being deposited into the general fund.
In 2011 legislation was passed that allowed Alabama lawmakers to transfer funds from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, under which state parks fall, and into the general fund.
Since 2012, Powell said state parks have lost $15 million of their budget to the general fund. As a result, five state parks shut down. Three of the five were able to reopen through partnerships with municipal governments.
Powell said parks are struggling to keep up with park maintenance and upgrades.
“There’s no room to add amenities and if a disaster strikes there’s no backup fund to help the parks clean up or rebuild,” she said.
Alabama state parks bring in all of the money needed to fund themselves, Powell said. State parks have had an average budget of $37 million over the past five to seven years. Of that, about $8 million comes from a cigarette and use tax from the state.
State parks generate $30 million to $32 million on their own every year, which is enough to properly maintain the parks, Powell said. However, the economic impact of state parks is far greater.
“The economic impact of state parks amounts to $375 million per year,” she said. “That stems from hotels, gas, food and whatever else people spend their money on while they’re here visiting our parks.”
About 50 percent of state park visitors are out-of-state.
After learning about Amendment 2, Maddie Hoaglund, a senior at Westminster School at Oak Mountain in Birmingham, said she decided it would be the subject of her Gold Award project for the Girl Scouts.
The project requires her to spend 80 hours planning and carrying out a service project.
During Love Your State Parks Day held at Oak Mountain on Sept. 24, Hoaglund will have a booth at the Dogwood Pavilion to raise awareness about Amendment 2.
“I’m really passionate about nature and I go to Oak Mountain all the time, so when I heard about Amendment 2 I just really wanted to help,” she said.
Before closures there were 22 parks statewide. A third of them were profitable, a third were breaking even and a third were losing money. Powell said the parks that are doing well support the parks that break even or lose money.
Oak Mountain and Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville are among the parks that are doing well. Parks in rural areas tend to struggle.
The Alabama Parks Partners Coalition has more community meetings scheduled to educate the public about Amendment 2. The coalition will be at Wind Creek State Park on Aug. 16, Gulf State Park on Aug. 23 and Joe Wheeler State Park on Aug. 29.
“I haven’t heard anyone that’s against it, but it’s not enough to support the amendment, you actually have to go out and vote for it on Nov. 8,” Powell said.