Bentley Vetoes Budget Cuts, Keeps Park Open

Bentley Vetoes Budget Cuts, Keeps Park Open

The proposed budget cuts, which would result in closure of state parks, including Lake Lurleen State Park, was vetoed by Gov. Bentley.  CW | Shelby Akin

State park employees, advocates and patrons can breathe and return to enjoying their respective posts in the outdoors. Earlier this month, Gov. Robert Bentley vetoed the state legislature’s budget bill that scheduled to shut down multiple state parks.

In April, the Alabama Legislature proposed budget cuts that would close 15 of Alabama’s state parks by the end of the fiscal year 2016. One of the 15 parks scheduled to close was Lake Lurleen outside Tuscaloosa in Coker. The parks scheduled to close were those not making adequate revenue.

As of June 18, the State Park Funding Crisis blog stated the bill was vetoed by Bentley and thus has eased the concerns of the closure of state parks.

“The Governor vetoed the legislature’s budget bill which included cash transfers that would have come from State Park,” the post said. “With the veto of this budget bill our immediate concerns about park closures has been relieved.”

The proposition from state legislators was to transfer funding from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to other state departments and agencies. The legislation was scheduled to transfer $11.4 million from the 
department’s budget appropriation and divert it to the state’s general fund.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is responsible for the management of state parks, state land, wildlife and aquatic resources. The result of the proposed budget would have been $10.4 million – of the $11.4 million – taken from state parks and over 300 jobs cut throughout the park system.

Of the 22 state parks in Alabama, the proposed cuts would shut down 15 parks: Bladon Springs, Chickasaw, Buck’s Pocket, Paul Grist, Florala, Blue Springs, Roland Cooper, Rickwood Caverns, Cheaha, Lake Lurleen, DeSoto, Lakepoint, Guntersville, Joe Wheeler and Frank Jackson, leaving only seven parks remaining: Meaher, Wind Creek, Chewacla, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Oak Mountain and Gulf 
State Park.

If the state closed the park at Lake Lurleen – formally scheduled to shut down October 1 – it would be handed over to the city of Northport who would then decide if it would be able to effectively fund the continuation of the park.

Lake Lurleen State Park is situated on a 250-acre lake, offering visitors fishing and swimming opportunities. The park also has 23 miles of multi-use trails for hiking and mountain biking, a nature center and over 90 campsites with water, electricity and bathhouses, making them suitable for RV’s and traditional tent camping.

“We’ll have dozens of people who call daily asking if the park is closed,” said Rosemary Burnette, Lake Lurleen Park Supervisor. “As of now, Lake Lurleen is open and operating normally.”

The budget crisis and threat to close 15 state parks sparked mass controversy among state legislators, government agencies, park patrons, statewide newspapers, park staff and community members, many of whom advocated to keep parks open.

In the midst of the threat, nonprofit campaigns and organizations like the Alabama State Parks Partners Coalition formed to encourage citizens to take advantage of the parks in order to raise revenue and safeguard the parks from further legislation.

For park patron Drew Shannon of Fayette, Alabama, the threat of state parks closing is unsettling.

“My wife and I came to Lake Lurleen for the first time today, and it’s been so beautiful and relaxing,” Shannon said. “It’d be a true shame if they took these parks away from us.”

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