By Greg Lein and
Alabama’s State Parks have received much attention during the last few years, including reports of crippling transfers of park funding, the closing of five locations, and now Constitutional Amendment 2, which will be on the ballot Nov. 8 and is needed to protect park funding.
Amendment 2 – the State Parks Amendment – will prevent park revenues from being siphoned off to support other needs in state government. It constitutionally protects the future of Alabama’s State Parks’ funding.
Unfortunately, some questions have been raised about Amendment 2, particularly about language that allows for more parks to partner with businesses to operate attractions.
Some say the amendment will “privatize” state parks, but that is not true and that word does not even appear in the language the people of Alabama will see on their ballot in November. If it were true, State Parks staff, outdoors organizations, chambers of commerce, tourism offices and the many other park partners (https://alparkspartners.com/park-partners/) would not be supporting Amendment 2.
Amendment 2 simply gives more parks the flexibility to partner with businesses to develop and/or maintain attractions at the parks as they have done for years.
A number of parks have had successful partnerships, or concessionaire agreements, with private businesses. These private businesses invest their own money into developing and maintaining new attractions within the parks, and the parks receive a percentage of the guest revenues. But because of a law passed in the late 1990s, not all park facilities are permitted to enter into these concessionaire agreements. Amendment 2 simply levels the playing field and allows for all parks to enter into concession agreements. These agreements have been successful and beneficial at many parks for years.
Agreements with private entities could also be good for parks or amenities that the state otherwise cannot afford to operate. While we’d rather not be in this position, the option to bid out parks and amenities to private businesses is better than being forced to immediately close them to park guests. It’s not privatization. It’s smart business sense.
A recent example of a concessionaire agreement working to benefit the parks system is Roland Cooper State Park. We did not want to close the park in 2015, but we could no longer afford to operate and manage it at a constant loss to the system while money was being taken from us. We had to stop the bleeding and it was forced to close. However, because we had the discretion to bid out the operations and management of that park, it has since reopened without placing a burden on the rest of the parks system.
There is no intention by the parks system staff or our supporters to change how your parks are operated and managed. If parks and facilities are succeeding, we are going to keep doing whatever it is that is obviously working. If we have parks or facilities failing, we should have options to take that burden off the system while allowing businesses the opportunity to continue to operate them if they choose to do so.
The bottom line: if we want to ensure we have a well-maintained parks system and that money spent at the parks stays at the parks, we encourage you to vote YES for Amendment 2. A yes vote for amendment 2 is a vote to protect parks funding and a vote to ensure that more park attractions will be open to the public. A no vote will guarantee more uncertainty for our state parks system and its future. Please join us in voting YES for Amendment 2 – the State Parks Amendment.
Greg Lein is the director of the Alabama State Parks and Bob Baumhower is CEO of Aloha Hospitality International. A lifetime supporter of Alabama’s State Parks System, Bob serves on the Alabama State Parks Partners Steering Committee.