In a poll conducted this summer, broad support for Alabama’s state parks was demonstrated by likely voters of all ages, education levels, political preferences, and geographic areas. Eighty-nine percent of respondents said that funding for Alabama’s state parks should either increase or stay the same, and 67 percent say that Alabama does an excellent or good job of managing our parks. Just over a quarter of respondents say they visit state parks at least once a month.
“We’ve been working with voters and our partner organizations to protect state parks for almost two years now,” said Tammy Herrington, Executive Director of Conservation Alabama. “This poll quantifies what we see first-hand every day: Alabama voters care about state parks and want to see them protected.”
State parks’ funding took center stage during the 2015 state legislative session. More than 80 percent of the money parks rely on for operation comes from user fees – the money visitors spend inside the park on things like admission or campsite rentals. A change in the law gave the state legislature the power to transfer the money earned by state parks to the General Fund to be spent elsewhere, and $15 million of the parks’ earnings have been transferred since 2012. As Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Gunter Guy said in a budget hearing, these transfers were “killing” Alabama’s state parks.
The budget crisis forced five state parks to close in the fall of 2015, and seven more to reduce their hours and services. Meanwhile, voters were demanding a solution: more than 10,000 messages have been sent to the governor and state legislators asking them to keep state parks funded and open. As a result of this public outcry, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) introduced Senate Bill 260 during the 2016 legislative session. SB 260 called for a constitutional amendment to put an end to the practice of transferring funds from state parks to the General Fund, guaranteeing that money earned by or allocated to state parks will only be used by state parks. This is on the November 8 statewide ballot as Amendment 2, the Alabama State Parks Amendment.
If Amendment 2 passes on Election Day, Alabama’s state parks will no longer have to watch the money they earn go out the door to fund other state programs. Visitors to our state parks will know that every dollar they spend will go to the parks, and Alabamians will know that our most beautiful natural places are being protected for future generations.