By: Douglas C. Purcell, Executive Director Historic Chattahoochee Commission
On August 27th the board of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources voted to close selected state parks and historic sites for the remainder of this year and 2009 according to an Associated Press story in the August 28th issue of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. As part of this action, it was also recommended that state-run lodges and golf courses be outsourced to help the Department "brace for a stinging round of budget cuts." The Department would not divulge which parks would be closed but said that as many as six parks and seven historic sites could be shut down as part of this austerity move. Currently 63 state parks and historic sites as well as seven golf courses are open to the public which attract more than 11 million visitors each year.
The Chattahoochee Valley of south central and southwest Georgia will be among the most vulnerable regions for these closures. There are six state parks, one golf course and one historic site in this area along or near to the lower Chattahoochee River. These include Kolomoki Mounds State Historic Park near Blakely, Providence Canyon State Conservation Park near Lumpkin, F. D. Roosevelt State Park near Pine Mountain, George T. Bagby State Park at Fort Gaines, Florence Marina State Park at Omaha and Seminole State Park near Donalsonville. Also potentially impacted will be the Little White House at Warm Springs and Meadow Links Golf Course near Fort Gaines.
In 2007, these facilities attracted approximately 842,234 visitors to the Chattahoochee Valley. The 2007 tourism statistics, compiled by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, indicate that the average spending for leisure travelers per person per day was $78. This means that the total economic impact of these facilities in 2007 was at least $65,694,252. This impact will be even greater if you count overnighting domestic travelers who spent an average of $109 per day in Georgia.
One part of the vision statement for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources states that "Georgia’s natural, historic, cultural, environmental and economic resources will be available for everyone to use and enjoy." Georgia citizens and visitors will be denied access to those facilities that are closed for the next 20 or 22 months. Closing these parks and historic sites will be like throwing the baby out with the wash water because the Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division’s brand will be damaged, state employees will lose their jobs and tourism revenue will be lost. This will be especially troubling for those counties that are already economically stressed and depend on tourism revenue to help make ends meet.
It is hoped that Georgia DNR board members will rethink this drastic decision in view of the harmful effects outlined above. These park facilities are valuable assets for the State of Georgia and the counties and communities in which they are located. Citizen concerns about these pending closures can be directed to the Board of Natural Resources, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 1252 East, Atlanta, GA 30334. The Fax number is 404-656-4729 and the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: The Jackson County Times would normally not put any non local news in our paper, but since some Jackson County residents may be planning trips to some of the nearby parks in Georgia, we decided to include this story. Please check with officials before you embark on a trip to one of the Georgia parks.