Miss., La. parks have upgrade funding challenges

Published 11:45 pm Thursday, October 16, 2008


Mississippi owns and maintains about 1,000 buildings at 25 state parks, including Buccaneer, a closed park heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Louisiana State Park system consists of 20 recreational parks, 16 historic sites and one preservation area.

With declining tax collections in Mississippi, additional funding for the state park system doesn’t appear to be high on the list of concerns for state lawmakers. In Louisiana, many state parks were heavily damaged by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav this year.

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Since an infusion of extra cash is highly unlikely, Ramie Ford, Mississippi’s parks director, says he’s taking more of a ‘‘businesslike approach’’ to managing his state’s system.

‘‘We are obviously trying to do the best that we can. We are trying to upgrade a lot of our facilities, such as cabins. Many of those were built in the 1930s and they need continuous maintenance and renovations,’’ Ford said.

He said the park system is trying to use in-house labor as much as possible for renovations and repairs. The agency is trying to cross-train staff to continue to save money that would otherwise be contracted out.

Of Louisiana’s 20 parks, nine are temporarily closed because of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, said Sharon Broussard, spokeswoman for the Louisiana parks system.

The agency has a ‘‘729 fund’’ that is used for maintenance, repairs and construction projects that do not require the expertise of a contractor, Broussard said, but the damage left by the hurricanes is quite extensive.

‘‘Without having a definitive cost estimate for the repairs, it is difficult to say how much of our 729 fund will be tapped for the hurricane-related repairs,’’ she said. ‘‘However, we are also working with FEMA on funds to cover repair and recovery costs.’’

Securing any federal money could be a slow process, Broussard said.

‘‘To give you an idea of the time frame involved, we had completed repairs to a bathhouse at Grand Isle State Park that was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina … just before Labor Day weekend,’’ Broussard said. Grand Isle State Park now remains closed because of extensive storm surge damage that washed sand from the beach well inland, she said.

Of Louisiana’s 16 historic sites, eight of them are closed temporarily. Fort Pike State Historic Site in New Orleans also remains closed due to extensive damage. The site was damaged in Katrina and had just reopened this year, Broussard said.

In Mississippi, Gov. Haley Barbour is telling agencies they should prepare to trim their spending by 2 percent.

Despite the funding challenges, five of Mississippi’s state parks were among the nation’s top 100 family campgrounds in 2008, according to Reserve America, a camping reservation provider. The parks winning awards include John W. Kyle State Park near Sardis, Paul B. Johnson State Park near Hattiesburg, Lake Lincoln State Park near Wesson, Percy Quin State Park near McComb and Trace State Park near Belden.

‘‘We had 10 or 11 parks that won an award. Some parks won two or three,’’ Ford said.

‘‘Money is always the issue to do any and everything you want. We are just trying to do the very best with what we’ve got,’’ Ford said.