What is the inherent value of sustaining Alabama’s state parks? How does one measure the joy of viewing the Southern Appalachian Mountains from atop Cheaha State Park? How rewarding is a once-in-a-lifetime photo of a granddaughter or grandson catching their first bream from the shore of Lake Guntersville State Park? How precious are the voices of excited Alabama school children netting a feisty blue crab from the shallows of Gulf State Park? These and other cherished experiences − even at Alabama’s remotest state parks – are both formative and priceless.
Our state parks are a public resource owned, cherished, and frequented by Alabamians young and old. In addition to providing a plethora of recreational and educational opportunities, our parks protect and preserve key elements of the natural beauty and resources of a state whose geological map is as varied as the colors of a Gulf sunset. From the Appalachian Mountains to the salt marshes of Mobile Bay, our rich, diverse soils support ecosystems having some of the highest biodiversity anywhere in America. Creeks, streams and rivers teem with a spectacular array of fish and mussels; canyons harbor dense forests of mixed hardwoods of oak, birch, sycamore, hickory, and maple, and our coastal plain is sprinkled with longleaf and loblolly pine, saw palmetto, and the occasional pitcher plant bog. Along our coastal shores, white-sand Alabama beaches support unique dune communities where life is well adapted to summer heat and salt spray.
Despite Alabama’s great natural resources, among the eight southern states Alabama ranks last in the number of state parks (22 parks). Even ignoring Florida’s 171 state parks, the remaining seven southern states average twice as many, with 44 parks per state. We also have the lowest number of state parks per capita (5 state parks per one million citizens) and are last in the number of parks relative to the size of our state (0.4 parks per 1000 square miles, while the average for the 8 states is 1.2 parks). With only 48,154 state park acres, Alabama has three times less state park land than the average (166,202 acres) for the eight southern states. Collectively, these numbers reflect how precious our few state parks are relative to our neighbors, and may also explain why numbers of tourists visiting Alabama rank comparatively low.
Amendment 2 is a reasoned response. Since 2012, the Alabama State Legislature has reallocated approximately $15 million from the state park budget to cover other state expenses. In the absence of sufficient funds for support and maintenance, in 2015 five Alabama state parks were forced to close and others had to operate under reduced budgets. Amendment 2 would prohibit any future diversion of funds designated for our state park system to go for other purposes.
Let’s show our pride in Alabama by maintaining our state parks. On November 8, please vote YES for Amendment 2.
James B. McClintock is the Endowed University Professor of Polar and Marine Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is a 30-year resident of Alabama. He is the author of “Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land” and “A Naturalist goes Fishing: Casting in Fragile Waters from the Gulf of Mexico to New Zealand’s South Island.”
R. Scot Duncan is Professor of Biology at Birmingham Southern College. He is a 15-year resident of Alabama. He is the author of “Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity.”