GULF SHORES — On a spectacular day at the waterfront, officials came together at Lake Shelby in Gulf State Park asking voters to preserve money for parks via Amendment 2 in Tuesday’s election.
“As a lifelong resident, I am absolutely baffled why we have to pass a constitutional amendment to protect ourselves from our Legislature,” said Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism.
The amendment would prevent money raised by the parks, such as from guest fees, from being transferred away for some other use. Officials say that since 2012, some $15 million has been taken away from state parks and given to the General Fund.
Malone said he remembered learning how to fish at Lake Shelby as a child. “There’s not a more important amendment of the 14 amendments on the ballot than Amendment 2,” Malone said.Last year, some state parks closed and others saw reductions in hours as a result of the taking of revenues. Parks also need a great deal of maintenance which doesn’t get accomplished when revenue is unexpectedly removed, Malone said.
Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said voters may be confused because the amendment initially was incorrectly printed on the ballot. “That’s a very difficult way to start the conversation with your voters,” Lein said. But, he said, the issue is economic, not political, especially on the Baldwin County coastline where Gulf State Park is such as an asset for tourism.
“It’s not a red issue. It’s not a blue issue. It’s a red, white and blue issue,” Lein said.
Another section of the amendment allows private entities to operate hotels, restaurants and golf courses on park lands. Opponents have argued this provision will lead to privatization of attractions in the state parks system.
But Lein noted that services such as beach chairs and concessions are already provided by private operators in Gulf State Park. Restrictions on what may be done with buildings constructed through bond issues have hampered improvements at other state parks because the history often must be researched to determine what can or can’t be done, he said.
Speaking for the city of Orange Beach and the Alabama Trails Commission, Orange Beach Coastal Resources Manager Phillip West said the park’s Hugh Branyon Back Country Trail has a economic impact of $2 million in the community.
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