Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Perdido Key park in trouble | | Pensacola News Journal

Perdido Key park in trouble Pensacola News Journal: "Perdido Key park in trouble"

Perdido Key park in trouble

Proposed budget cuts could close 53 state parks

Travis Griggs • • February 2, 2011
Perdido Key State Park is among 53 Florida parks that could be closed later this year as state officials scramble to meet a nearly $4 billion budget shortfall.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection included the closures in a budget proposal outlining how it could cut 15 percent from its budget in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July.
Perdido Key State Park is a 247-acre barrier island tract, located about 15 miles southwest of Pensacola on Gulf Beach Highway.
"Everybody would just be sick if they closed it. It's lovely," said Ann Griffin, a board member with the Perdido Key Association, a nonprofit advocate for environmental preservation and responsible development. "I hope they would think long and hard before closing it."
The park, which is open from 8 a.m. to sundown, has basic facilities including a parking lot, boardwalk, covered picnic tables and restrooms. It provides a habitat for several endangered species, including the Perdido Key beach mouse, which is one of North America's rarest mammals.
Details of how the closures would be carried out, including how much access the public would have to closed park land, had yet to be decided, said Kristin Lock, DEP spokeswoman.
"The proposed closures are still just that, proposed," Lock said.
Lock said details would be worked out once the state budget gets final approval, which usually occurs in May.
Jim Lane, president of the Friends of Perdido Bay community organization, said that while the park may not be fancy, it is a community asset.
The park is only occasionally attended by state employees, and admission fees of $3 per vehicle and $2 per pedestrian are collected in an "honor system" drop box near the park entrance.
"It seems like it's pretty low maintenance," Lane said.
Low attendance
Statewide, the closures would save $6.4 million per year in expenses but would cost the DEP more than $900,000 in lost park entry fees and other revenues, according to the budget proposal.
Parks selected for the proposed closure list have the lowest attendance numbers and don't offer camping or other overnight accommodations, DEP officials said.
In the 2009-10 fiscal year, 31,133 people visited Perdido Key State Park, DEP officials said, and the park's operating budget was $33,571.
During a legislative committee meeting last week, DEP's deputy secretary for policy and planning, Jennifer Fitzwater, said the agency does not plan to sell any closed park land, because the parks could be reopened at a later date when the budget allows.
Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino, whose district includes Perdido Key State Park, said he planned to ask Gov. Scott for more details on the possible park closure during a conference call today.
"I respect very much his aggressive approach at getting our financial matters under control at the state level," Valentino said. "The concern I have is I'm not looking to have the state continue to own property and have local tax dollars maintain it."

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