This week, our leaders in state government heard just how important state parks are to our state’s environment, economy, and communities. Since Monday, over 700 letters have been sent to Gov. Bentley, Lt. Gov. Ivey, and the legislators who represent you in the state house. The message you sent has been loud and clear: we want our state parks open and accessible.
Gov. Bentley has indefinitely postponed the closures of four Alabama State Parks that were scheduled to shut down on May 1. Bladon Springs, Buck’s Pocket, Chickasaw, and Paul Grist State Parks will now remain open and staffed for the time being.
Unfortunately, our state’s budget problems are not over. The cuts that would shut down 15 of our 22 state parks in 2016 are still being considered by the legislature as they continue to draft a budget. If you haven’t already, please let your elected officials know that Alabama’s state parks are not bargaining chips. Together, we can protect our state parks!
The Alabama State Legislature is continuing to work on drafting a budget, and Alabama’s state parks are at risk of losing funding. The “austerity budget” that is currently being debated calls for extreme cuts to existing state programs and agencies. It also requires some state agencies that receive no general fund appropriations to transfer money into the state’s General Fund for spending on other programs. Under the current proposal, the legislature would transfer over $11 million from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to the General Fund.
According to Greg Lein, Director of State Parks, this enormous cut in funding would mean that DCNR would no longer be able to operate 15 out of the 22 state parks in Alabama. If this budget passes as it is currently written, the first four park closures would happen on May 1. On June 1, five other parks would cut staff and hours of operation. The remainder of the 15 parks would be closed during the 2016 fiscal year, leaving only seven remaining state parks in Alabama.
Closing our state parks means more than the loss of our connection with nature, shared times with family and friends, and other “feel good” activities they provide. It also means loss of revenue for our state and the communities that rely on these parks to bring in tourists. In 2014, the University of Alabama published a study that pegged state parks’ economic impact at the staggering figure of $375 million. That’s roughly 34 times the amount that the state is looking to save by closing these parks. The study credited state parks for supporting 5,340 jobs, and for bringing in $152.4 million in spending from park visitors. Closing state parks to save money is a case of the state legislature being penny wise and pound foolish.
It’s simple to tally up the money the state would lose by closing the state parks, but it’s more difficult to quantify the loss of the environmental and community benefits the parks provide. These parks are places where families can experience our state’s beauty, some of the few places left where it’s possible to get away from it all and just be outdoors. The parks also serve as safe habitats for the plants and wildlife that make Alabama one of the most biologically diverse places in America. They connect us to our state.
Legislators need to hear from you about how vital state parks are to Alabama’s livelihood and way of life. Use our legislative directory to find your state senator and representative and their contact information, and let them know that this austerity budget should not be passed as written. Our state parks are too important to lose.
Most of the bills Conservation Alabama supports or opposes during the legislative session are directly related to environmental and public health. We support SB 4/HB 128 because we want people to feel safe on their roads, whether they’re on a bike or driving a car. We support HB 61 because companies who violate pipeline safety regulations need to receive more than a slap on the wrist for putting our communities in danger. At first glance, it might seem like our support of HB 214, which extends an existing tax credit for rehabilitating buildings that are eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, has nothing at all to do with the environment. In fact, it’s a crucial step to making our communities greener and more livable.
The most obvious benefit of making use of buildings that already exist is that it reduces waste. When property owners decide to fix what’s already there instead of tearing down a building, they’re also deciding not to send materials to a landfill. We’re not saying it’s always easy to bring an old building up to modern standards, but it’s worth doing well to preserve not only the materials but also the personality of your community.
Older neighborhoods, particularly in small towns, are also built to accommodate people first and cars second, if at all. Sidewalks, even if they’re cracked, encourage you to walk through your neighborhood. Front porches that were designed to catch cool breezes in the summer encourage conversation with your neighbors and interaction with your community. Small towns and urban centers are experiencing new growth across the country as families and businesses are choosing to live with a smaller footprint and closer connections.
Think about towns you like to visit in Alabama. Maybe you’re planning to go to Eufaula for the annual Tour of Homes, or you take a detour on your way to the beach to drive under the live oaks on Government Street in Mobile. Montgomery’s Garden District, Talladega’s Silk Stocking District, and Fairhope’s Fruits and Nuts neighborhood are all places that resonate with us because they are working to preserve their unique historical character. It can be difficult for communities to do this, and they have to know that families and businesses will be able to buy into their historic neighborhoods and make them active, viable communities.
HB 214 continues the assistance the state provides to people willing to make an investment in their historic communities. A tax credit might make all the difference for a young family that wants to live in a historic neighborhood but needs space to grow, or a small business owner who wants to be a part of the community but has to meet building codes. Conservation Alabama believes these investments are worthwhile, not just for the environmental benefits of using existing materials and structures, but also for the social and economic benefits of supporting existing neighborhoods that reflect the history and culture of our state.
Correction: This post initially provided incorrect information about the buildings that are eligible for tax credits. It has been updated to reflect that all buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are also eligible for rehabilitation tax credits. We regret the error.