In wake of budget cuts, state parks supporters asking for donations

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Though the 2015 state budget row in Montgomery left few sectors of the government and public infrastructure unscathed, state parks took it on the chin in a major way, closing down entire parks and leading to municipal takeovers in others.

But for those who needed more proof Alabama’s state parks are in a bad way, check out a recent missive Philip Darden, chair of the Alabama State Parks Partners Coalition, issued Monday.

Darden asked friends of the state parks via email to donate to the park as part of so-called “#GivingTuesday,” a day following Black Friday and Cyber Monday generally aimed at philanthropic and humanitarian causes like disaster relief or disease research.

“Our parks bring to much to the state of Alabama; by participating in this worldwide giving event the Alabama Parks Partners hope to inspire people and organizations to give back these great parks,” said Darden, a photographer and designer by trade. “Your donations will help this incredible state parks system thrive, help put on special projects and events and improve communication to supporters of Alabama State Parks.

Public causes with the presumed backing of state governments are not usually the object of pleas for charity, but Darden’s group is making an exception due to the severity of the cuts.

“Alabama State Parks have been hit hard with a fifth year of budget transfers by the Legislature,” wrote Darden. “Due to this continual transfer of park funds to the general fund, five parks have closed their doors.

“The Parks System make the majority of its own money from park guest fees, but the Legislature has taken this money to fund other agencies of government; $30 million has been transferred from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources since 2012. This year The Parks Partners are participating in #GivingTuesday to combat the severe losses of funding to Alabama State Parks.”

Some critics say Alabama’s state parks were affected  more than was necessary.

State Auditor Jim Zeigler, for instance, has called the shuttering of six state parks so far “needless” and even equated the closures to mismanagement.

State parks director Greg Lein penned an op-ed on the issue featured on Alabama Today in October, just days before of the looming park closures.

“Despite seeing our money siphoned to other areas of government, we’ve been successful in helping our entire system thrive,” Lein wrote. “For the first time in nearly two decades all facilities at the parks are operational, and we were able to have one of our best peak seasons ever this summer.

“Unfortunately, we’re now seeing nearly all of the revenue made off this record season transferred to the general fund,” wrote Lein.

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