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The state of our parks: taking action

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – We’ve shown you the issues facing Mississippi state parks. We also showed you how a neighboring state, Arkansas, solved its state park issues and is now thriving, even attracting campers from Mississippi.

We are continuing our 3 On Your Side investigation by examining the actions taken by state officials regarding the condition of our parks.

Watching an archive video from the early 2000s, you could see a lot of RVs and people. It was quite common in Mississippi state parks.

“I remember a time for our state parks when you couldn’t get a reservation for an RV for over a year,” said Rep. Becky Currie. “It was a year on a waiting list to get into our cabins. It’s just not like that anymore.

A look at state parks in the 2000s.(WLBT)

This point was underlined by the director of the Ministry of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Sam Polles.

Polles said: “We actually went through 20 years, probably a little over 20 years of neglect. In fact, we didn’t have the money to upgrade as we went through time.

Polles was addressing the Mississippi Joint Budgetary Committee on September 24.

“We’re proud of some of the things we’ve been doing lately, trying to do in the future,” Polles said.

We sat down again with Jennifer Head to find out what has been done and what the ministry is trying to do in the future. She is the Budget Administrator and Legislative Liaison Officer for Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Head shared an architect’s render of what’s planned for Roosevelt State Park, the first of 5 targeted for Phase 1 upgrades.

“Totally updated: still have that aesthetic of being in a park but updated devices,” Head said. “Updated features everywhere, from the bedding to the wardrobes to the upstairs bathroom, even providing a really nice outdoor experience off the patio. We are going to make a concrete patio with a fireplace and a grill, so it will be a very nice experience for the camper.

And when can we expect to see real progress?

“The remainder of Phase 1 we’re hoping to get to a vendor by the end of November, so we should see some progress in this fiscal year, June 30. I’m not saying it’s going to be completely over, but we should be well advanced. the way, ”Head said.

Also on the ministry’s budget wishlist:

“We asked for help for a full time marketing manager specifically for the parks so that we could get some of the advertising and promotional items and be it radio, TV, billboards … all of that. . That’s the direction of the net, ”said Head.

Arkansas has a budget of over $ 1 million dedicated to marketing its parks. So how will all of this be paid for in Mississippi? Wildlife has $ 3.5 million to match with federal funds, as well as private dollars to work with now. Voters in Arkansas have approved a one-eighth-of-a-cent tax that generates $ 30 million a year in dedicated funds for its parks. Could it happen here?

Rep. Becky Currie said, “Well, you know it’s going to be very difficult in the legislature today to raise a tax. We are not really in the tax business and I like what we do. “

Instead, Representative Currie said she would like to see Mississippi tap into the $ 80 million to $ 100 million a year from the lottery.

“What I took away from the Arkansas legislation is that no one was really upset that they raised taxes to fix their state parks, so I don’t think anyone would be upset that us. let’s take some of that lottery money, not raise your taxes and fix our state parks so they can generate their own income, ”Currie said.

Unlike Arkansas, the Mississippi park system had to share resources with wildlife and fishing. Because of this, Currie said she believed the parks had suffered.

“You know that the administration that is there now was not interested in ensuring that our state parks were kept clean and up to date. They had an eye on other areas of wildlife and fishing.

Another source of income is a specialty license plate with a simple but important message: Support State Parks.

“It’s not a lot of money, but every little bit counts and it adds up,” Head said. “But the money raised from the sale of specialty tags, $ 20 of each tag, goes to the infrastructure fund for the parks.”

We pointed out in our previous report that Arkansas state parks in the 1990s were in the same shape as Mississippi parks are today. I asked Rep. Currie if she and other lawmakers would be open to a visit from Arkansas State Parks Director Grady Spann.

She replied, “We take legislation from other states all the time. You know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If they have good legislation, of course we look at it. We can tweak it a bit to make it our own, but if they had a good idea and it worked, we need to take a look at it.

Obviously the awareness is there now and with the number of campers and campers’ money taking their families and their dollars out of Mississippi, the effort to rectify the condition of our parks has begun.

“So we have beautiful, beautiful resources across the state, beautiful state parks and we just want people to come back and visit them and we want to make them beautiful,” Head said.

Other work is underway to improve the condition of our parks. In fact, you might be surprised at one of the ideas that bounced back from the September 24 Budget Committee meeting. You can see it here:

We will continue to monitor progress as officials work to improve the condition of our parks.

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