'Be patient:' Legislators urge calm over impending park closures

Published: Apr. 20, 2015 at 9:28 PM CDT|Updated: May. 18, 2015 at 9:28 PM CDT
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DEKALB COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Legislators in DeKalb County met with residents at DeSoto State Park as Governor Robert Bentley addressed impending park closures at another event in Marshall County.

Bentley told the crowd at Lake Guntersville State Park he was not the one closing the parks - but if a budget plan currently awaiting passage by the legislature is approved, it will be the legislature that will be responsible for the parks' closure.

However, the Senator and Representative who spoke in DeKalb County Monday say that the Governor's tax plan is not necessary to keep the parks open.

They do feel additional revenue is needed - just not in the form of a large tax hike.

They also say there isn't a good reason why one park is set to close in just a couple weeks.

Many showed up at DeSoto State Park to hear from their legislators about the fate of some 15 parks proposed for closure.

Senator Steve Livingston urged calm, as the legislature hasn't even passed a budget yet.

"It may be an 11.5-percent proposed cut. It may be a 5-percent increase for the state parks before it's all said and done," Livingston said. "We just don't know. Be patient and let the process work."

Both Livingston and Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter say they're committed to the parks.

"$71 million dollars [were] brought into DeKalb County with tourism," Ledbetter said. "And to even talk about closing these parks - it's an engine driver for our county. It just doesn't make sense."

Marshall County and Lake Guntersville State Park attracts thousands each year, and those we spoke to Monday said they have their reasons why they chose this park over others.

"The view, the fishing, and I don't think you can have any better facility than what we have right here at this park," said Sam Kelley.

The Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce says the governor's suggestion that state parks could temporarily close is not what the area needs to hear. They say losing tourists would be a huge financial hit.

"Tourism is a huge part of the whole economy of Marshall County and Guntersville," said Amanda Sellnow. "A park closure would drastically affect the whole economy... There's so many groups and tourists that come in, they come and stay at the state park, but then they also fill up their gas tanks when they're in town, they go and eat, they go shopping."

While the politicians in Montgomery debate budgets and make threats, taxpayers we spoke with are getting frustrated.

"The politicians, they get in office and they listen to the lobbyists because they grease their pockets, and that's the reason we get in the shape we're in right now," Kelley said.

"I realize the state needs money, but it seems like every time they want money they take try to get money from places that are family oriented like the state parks," added Bob Maddox.

State Park Director Greg Lein issued a list of 15 parks facing closure last week, which Ledbetter said are fully funded through the end of September.

However, parks officials say Buck's Pocket is set to close May 1.

"The budget goes through October, so I don't know why it's set to close May 1," Ledbetter said.

We reached out to Lein about the Buck's Pocket closing schedule and are awaiting a reply.

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