UPDATED: Paul Grist State Park to close

Published 2:04 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Friends paddleboard and kayak in the lake Saturday at the Paul M. Grist State Park Family Fun Day.

Friends paddleboard and kayak in the lake Saturday at the Paul M. Grist State Park during August’s Family Fun Day.

Paul Grist State Park, along with four other parks, are set to close on Oct. 15 due to budget cuts made by the Alabama Legislature.

The park’s closure is part of a new contingency plan to handle $3 million in budget cuts to the Alabama State Parks Division.

“After spending the last four months on the road communicating with the public and talking about how we needed level funding, that we couldn’t endure another year of transfers, it’s just a really sad day,” said Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein.

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“It’s a hard day for me, it’s a hard day for our staff and it’s a hard day for all of the people that love Alabama state parks.”

Other parks that are closing are Bladon Springs, Chickasaw, Florala and Roland Cooper. The plan also includes a reduction in staff and operational hours at additional parks and park facilities.

Parks that will see seasonal closures are Rickwood Caverns, Blue Springs, Desoto and Cheaha Lodge & Restaurant.

Lein said $3 million was transferred from the Alabama State Park’s division to the general fund budget.

Four of the five parks that are closing are located in the Black Belt Region, and Lein said they are closing due to profitability.

“We’ve run the park system and the parks that we have in the park system for decades,” Lein said. “We’ve always had a park model where we were able to accept revenue losses at some of the smaller parks, and that was something we could do because we had dedicated, earmarked funding to help us with our maintenance costs and our administrative costs.”

Lein said Paul Grist made the list because of revenue that is lost each year in operating the park.

“That park is on the list because it is one of five that consistently lose money year after year after year,” Lein said, “It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong. It’s just that it’s a very remote park. It doesn’t receive a lot of visitation … and under these transfers we can no longer afford to endure those kinds of losses.”

Lein said Paul Grist was staffed by three people.

“One of those employees I believe is a merit employee, and we’re going to attempt to move him to another park, so he can continue his career, and the other [staff members] are non-merit, seasonal staff,” Lein said.

Lein said the department isn’t sure if the closures will be permanent or not.

“I don’t know what kind of transfer we’re going to endure next year, so we can’t really contemplate anything other than what’s right in front of us,” Lein said. “We no longer can afford to operate [Paul Grist] so it will be closed.”

Dallas County Commission Chairman and Probate Judge Kim Ballard said the news came as no surprise.

“The park is not as widely used, as I hoped it would be, but it is an institution,” Ballard said. “The park is one of the few places that are quiet and serene that we have to go to. It is a shame.”

Ballard said he hopes to see the community make an effort to keep the park open, whether it is as a state park or not.

“I don’t know what the alternatives might be. Perhaps the community can come together and save it someway,” Ballard said. “I never say never until we’ve exhausted all efforts to keep the park open.”

Other state agencies announced cuts Wednesday as well, as the new budget went into effect.