“We are going to have some very serious deficiencies.” Stuart Johnson, Office of State Parks assistant secretary
In spite of budget cuts, Louisiana’s state parks will be open and welcoming visitors this summer although many are in need of repairs, the state park’s chief said Friday.
The list of deferred maintenance and improvement projects is getting longer because $7.6 million designated for the purpose is being diverted to pay for park operations, said Office of State Parks Assistant Secretary Stuart Johnson. There’s only $900,000 left and top priority will be projects addressing health and safety issues, he said.
Because of the situation, Johnson said the parks office will launch in the next three weeks a new fundraising foundation for state parks that can receive tax-deductible donations.
The foundation will piggy-back off one established in the Acadiana area for Palmetto Island State Park, Johnson told the State Parks and Recreation Commission. Donations could be accepted for state parks in general or for support of a particular park or historical sites, he said.
Meanwhile, the commission endorsed earmarking $200,000 in Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars for initial development of a park in Gonzales. The funding would go to creation of walking paths and a dog park in the Lamendola Trails and Nature Area. It was one of five recommended projects given the nod for federal grant funding. Local matching funds are required.
“We have one week to go to know where our budget is” for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Johnson told commission members.
As it stands today, Johnson said state parks would get another $1.4 million hit to its $32 million budget. But he said he is hopeful that the Senate Finance Committee will recognize use of one-time money stripped from the budget in the Louisiana House. Absent changes, there could be closures of select state parks, he said. “If we receive funds at the current level we would not have any closures,” he said.
Johnson said state parks are “wide open this summer. Everything is a go.”
“We have a full slate of reservations made throughout the summer. The summer is our most highly in demand time,” he said. He said that’s when the parks generate the most revenues. “After that, all is speculative.”
The Jindal administration’s proposed budget once again takes money from the State Parks Repair and Improvement Fund, something that started about three years ago, Johnson said.
“At first it was just some money. Now it is a majority of the fund,” he said. “We will be going into year four where we do not have the money we use for repair and maintenance. It’s going to catch up with us. We have numerous projects we have had to put on hold, cancel. We are going to have some very serious deficiencies.”
After the meeting, Johnson provided some examples of projects on the maintenance and repair list including several at the Tickfaw State Park outside Springfield. At Tickfaw the list includes rest room repairs, painting of a nature center as well as roof repairs and resurfacing of a water playground. At Rosedown, repairs are needed to the pathway around the gardens, he said.