Linda B. Reynolds: Enrich the lives of your children, vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 2

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Several people have written op-ed pieces on the upcoming Amendment 2, which will allow state parks to keep the money they generate. I want to emphasize the state parks as a great big outdoor classroom, teaching all subjects and providing a great time in the process. I spent almost 20 years as the naturalist at Lake Guntersville State Park and I visited schools in 10 counties. Also, those schoolchildren came to the park on field trips. I had pre-school, elementary, junior high, high school, and university students. Then there were the professors who were studying something unique like bats, salamanders, fish, etc. One professor even came from the University of Northern Ontario to study our various crabapple trees.

Almost every time I went to a school, shortly after, a child would come to my park office and announce that they were camping (for the first time). Then they would say, “You came to my school”.

Lake Guntersville State Park is lucky to have old homesites clustered around a number of springs. It also has an old cemetery, so not only did we study the plants and animals, we studied history. We studied English language from the poetry on the tombstones and art history from the symbols on those grave markers. The numerous baby graves led to discussions about how important it is to be vaccinated. We used the golf course sometimes at night when planetarium personnel would do astronomy events. We went on night hikes to listen to owls and see glowworms.

One time, I had just read that city children sometimes have trouble walking in the woods. A few weeks later, I had an inner-city Girl Scout troop for a hike. A few yards down the trail, they began to fall down. Then I told them what I had read and we all got the giggles. After a few mishaps, all was fine and we had a great time.

I am a firm believer in exposing children to the natural world and there is no better way than taking them to a state park. At Lake Guntersville State Park, I gave kids opportunities to help our program. We did not do the Junior Ranger thing. We had Associate Naturalists. They donated exhibits to the Nature Center display, they helped care for the orphaned animals that I always seemed to acquire — especially the opossums. They helped clean the aquarium, bathed the Box turtles and chauffeured me in the golf cart when I needed to monitor the bluebird boxes. They helped with the trail work and learned something in the process. We had college students from all over the U.S. who served as interns. Now they are teachers, National Park workers, or serve in some other outdoor professions. I never tired of seeing the expression on a child’s face: a 4-year-old with a butterfly, or a child of any age when they saw their first bald eagle.

Several parks have naturalists on duty, and if they don’t, they can probably round up a volunteer to guide a class of children. And, parents, hiking with your children is a fun and exciting thing to do. And it’s CHEAP! Today’s children are tomorrow’s park users and we all need to nurture their interest in what is outside. Every state park has something unique: waterfalls, CCC structures, caves, lakes, beaches — something wondrous. So come on folks, mark that ballot for Amendment 2.

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Linda B. Reynolds, is a retired park naturalist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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3 Comments

  1. The implications of some of the language in Amendment 2 are complicated.

    here’s my take so far…..

    What the amendment would enable is the co-mingling of taxpayer-funded improvements with those that are privately funded, and the operations of those co-mingled improvements contracted to be operated by private parties. Presumably such arrangements, such contracts, would be pursued because the private parties and the state park system assumes they will make money….profit….and presumably those profits would be shared in some way, between private party and park system.

    But what is the likely outcome is, should private parties have a particular development scheme they feel is lucrative (and wish to construct and contract with the state to operate), and it is made more so by involvement by the state and its funding of a portion of said development, the state portion would now be able to be funded with bonds backed by state taxpayers…….the state taxpayer thus becoming an investment partner in a public-private development plan that utilizes state park system resources (land, shoreline, waterway, roads, golf course, other amenities).

    State park resources and taxpayer money now become leveraged in any manner of resort or recreational development schemes that a private party might impress or lobby to state government and the park system as a possible successful business venture.

    As it stands now, current park system improvements funded by the most recent bond package cannot be included in contracts that allow any other entities besides state park personnel to manage them.

    This is the portion of the amendment that is typically described as allowing “privatization” of state park operations, which is not exactly accurate.

    The example often alluded to is the state’s interest last year in going into business with private investors to build a resort hotel and conference center at Oak Mountain State Park. In that case, current law prevents the state from committing taxpayer-funded bond money to park improvements that would be a part of that proposed development, then have the development be private operated. With Amendment 2 that arrangement would no longer be illegal and the those interested in preventing a large-scale development as was proposed at OMSP, would no longer have that legal conflict as a basis for a lawsuit that would likely prevent such a development.

    The other part of the amendment allows all proceeds generated by state park operations (entry fees, etc) to be kept within the state park budget….and not allowed to be transferred to the state’s general fund.

    The writers of Amendment 2 cleverly combined a very desirable policy change with a very undesirable (my opinion) policy change, one that state government and the park system will likely exploit to pursue resort style or other developments at various park resources should they sense profit-driven opportunities……which is not in keeping with the mission of the state park system.

    Because of this “poison pill” embedded in an otherwise desirable change in park funding management, my vote is NO.

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