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May 24 ballot lets voters approve $80M loan for state parks

By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – There will be one statewide constitutional amendment on May 24 primary ballots, a proposal to borrow $80 million to make improvements and upgrades at many state parks.

“(Our state parks) are certainly a jewel for the state of Alabama,” said House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter. He sponsored the 2021 legislation putting the proposed borrowing in front of Alabama voters for their approval.

 “This would enable us to revitalize our parks,” he said. He also said that revamping state parks would bring in more visitors and help Alabama’s economy.

Alabama voters approved a $110 million bond issue in 1998 to help improve state parks and historical sites. That issue was recently paid off, allowing the state to enter into a new one, officials have said. According to a fiscal note on the bill, the bond issue will cost the General Fund about $6 million per year for 20 years.

According to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the 21 state parks total about 48,000 acres of land and water. In 2021, the parks had a total of 6.2 million visitors and an economic impact of $375 million for the state, according to the department. 

The department uses a system in which they charge customers for entry or for overnight stay. Between 80% and 90% of parks’ annual funding comes from customer fees, not taxes, the department says.

“We have been doing renovations and putting money back into the parks as revenue is generated,” said Chris Blankenship, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner. “However the need is so great, the bond proceeds are needed to get our state parks up to the first-class product that will best serve our citizens and guests going forward.”

He said that much of the money will be used to update the campgrounds to accommodate modern campers, which will require the installation of electrical outlets, WiFi connections, and upgraded water and sewer connections. 

Blankenship said they also plan to add larger cabins at certain locations, update playgrounds and restrooms, and add more recreational activities. The department wants the state parks to be accessible and accommodating to all Alabamians.

The amendment will also allow for $5 million in bonds to improve historical sites around the state. The legislation included language specifying that none of the funds are to go towards the Confederate Memorial Park in Marbury.

A list of proposed improvements at many of the parks is available online.

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