Pictured: Lake Guntersville State Park
Along with their preferred candidates for local and state offices, voters will have the opportunity to cast a ballot for a constitutional amendment May 24, one affecting funding for state parks.
If approved, Statewide Amendment 1 would authorize the issuance and sale of up to $85 million in general obligation bonds “for the purposes of the improvement, renovation, equipping, acquisition, provision, construction and maintenance of Alabama state parks under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and public historical sites and public historical parks under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Historical Commission.”
The result of legislation passed in 2021, the Legislative Services Agency’s Fiscal Division estimates that the repayment of the bonds will cost $6 million a year over 20 years. According to the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), repayment will be made through existing taxes already earmarked for the state park system bond repayment. Of the total, $80 million would go to state parks and $5 million would go to sites under the supervision of the Alabama Historical Commission.
“According to a PARCA analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, Alabama, in 2019, spent less than any other state on parks and recreation on a per capita basis,” according to a report released last week. “The state ranked in the bottom five in revenues generated from state parks and recreation programs and in the difference between charges and expenditures. In other words, Alabama also has among the lowest rates of state-level subsidy for parks and recreation in the U.S.”
The state has not issued bonds for state parks since 1998, and this amendment seeks to fund smaller projects in the system, according to Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein. Alabama state parks include 2,600 campsites, 700 lodge rooms, 200 cabins and cottages, and over 300 miles of trails. Locally, the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) manages such sites as Fort Mims, Fort Morgan, the Bottle Creek Indian Mounds and the Clotilda. According to the legislation, the money is prohibited from being used at AHC’s Confederate Memorial Park in Marbury.
State park upgrades targeted with the bond money include electrical systems in campgrounds, playground modernization, wifi access, and other infrastructure. Areas of Gulf State Park damaged by Hurricane Sally still await certain repairs.
“Some of the work involves issues not visible to the public,” Lien said in a statement. “Some parks require the installation of new water lines, some require sewer improvements, while another big component of the campground renovations are the bathhouses. We’ve got some old bathhouses at some of these sites. Demolishing those bathhouses and constructing modern ones with air conditioning and heating systems is a big element of a campground renovation.”
Earlier this week, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement in support of the amendment. According to other data published by PARCA, “Alabama’s state park system experienced a surge in visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic, setting a record of 6.2 million guest visits, as people sought outdoor recreation options closer to home.”
The report noted visitation numbers were down somewhat in 2021, due in part to Hurricane Sally forcing the partial closure of Gulf State Park
“Still, Alabama’s 21 state parks attracted 5.4 million guests in 2021 and generated approximately $50 million in revenue,” it read. “That revenue pays for the operation of the parks. Around $10 million in earmarked taxes flow to the parks for maintenance, capital improvements and the payback of previous bonds.”
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