N. Alabama parks marked for closure under budget cuts

Published: Apr. 15, 2015 at 5:57 PM CDT|Updated: May. 13, 2015 at 5:57 PM CDT
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Lake Guntersville State Park is marked for closure under the plan. (Source: WAFF)
Lake Guntersville State Park is marked for closure under the plan. (Source: WAFF)

(WAFF) - More than a dozen state parks would be closed under a plan by state lawmakers to trim Alabama's budget.

According to Lake Guntersville State Park Director Michael Jeffreys, a list of 15 parks marked for closure would include both Lake Guntersville and Buck's Pocket.

While Lake Guntersville would be closed in Fiscal Year 2016, which begins Oct. 1 of this year, Buck's Pocket's closure would be more immediate, with a May 1 target date.

No reservations at Buck's Pocket will be taken for after May 1; anyone who has an existing reservation past that date will be getting refunds.

Jeffreys said this should be a concern to residents, and that they should contact their lawmakers immediately.

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State Representative Joe Faust said that parks should be on the top of the list when budget cuts are required. He said state officials should be looking for ways to make the parks self-sustaining.

On Tuesday, Alabama State Parks System Director Greg Lein released the following statement:

"Recently we were notified of the legislatures' intent to transfer $11.4 million of funds from the 2016 Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) budget. The majority of these funds are to be transferred from ADCNR ($10.4 million) would come from the State Parks system. In anticipation of this loss in revenue, on May 1, 2015, we will implement an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) that closes several of our parks and park operations across the state. On June 1, 2015 we will implement a second EOP that will reduce the staffing and operational hours of several other parks. These dramatic changes will no doubt have a direct impact to their local communities and ultimately hurt our state's economy."

Governor Robert Bentley has threatened to veto any budget that contains massive cuts. He has said Alabama needs to raise taxes instead.

Representative Will Ainsworth released a statement in response to Lein's remarks:

“The legislative session has not reached its halfway point, and the new fiscal year does not begin until October, so I am concerned that Director Lein's letter is merely an unnecessary scare tactic that is attempting to build support for Gov. Bentley's $541 million tax plan. In the coming days, I will propose a plan that I believe can help balance the General Fund budget without breaking the ‘no new taxes' pledge that many of my fellow lawmakers and I made to the citizens of Alabama.”

We contacted Joe Wheeler State Park to inquire about their status on the closure list. A representative told us Wednesday that at this time, they are still taking reservations.

The representative said they have not been told to cancel any events scheduled for this year and they have not been given any orders to stop taking reservations or to close.

However, Lein said Joe Wheeler is on the Oct. 1 closure list alongside Lake Guntersville. He said they are two of the largest parks, and they sometimes operate in the red due to renovations and closures.

He said the legislative plan will take $10.4 million out of the department's revolving fund, which he said would lead to an "unravelling" of funds for the park system and that all parks would be impacted to some degree.

Lein also said if Gov. Bentley's budget is passed, then these parks would not have to be closed.

He indicated Monte Sano and Cathedral Caverns are not on the closure list.

Copyright 2015 WAFF. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.