State Parks At Risk in Latest Budget
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.