Cuts could lead to cabin closures

Cowee Meadow and Blue Mussel cabins at Point Bridget State Park may be affected

Posted: Thursday, April 01, 2004

State parks, cabins and historic sites face possible closure or reduced maintenance with proposed budget cuts in the Legislature.

State Parks Director Gary Morrison said the Parks Division still is trying to figure out how to deal with proposed cuts of about $519,000. But cuts could bring the closure of the popular Cowee Meadow and Blue Mussel cabins at Point Bridget State Park north of Juneau next year.

Other cabins around Juneau, including the Oliver Inlet Cabin, St. James Bay Cabin and Seymore Canal Cabin, could go into "passive maintenance status," where the facilities are not closed to the public but are no longer maintained by the state.

"We'll manage the parks as best we can, but people are going to have to understand that there will be effects," Morrison said.

He said cabins under a passive maintenance program would not be cleaned or provided with maintenance for water units, outhouses or commissioned park rangers.

The cabins at Point Bridget might be closed to the public because of liability associated with oil-burning stoves.

"Sometimes people don't have oil," Morrison said. "They don't bring enough oil and put wood in the stove and pretty soon the stove doesn't work. ... If we have to we would close it to avoid a public hazard."

The historic House of Wickersham, located next to the Capitol, also is slated for closure under the proposed budget cuts, Morrison said. The 106-year-old house, filled with Alaskan art and historic memorabilia, would open only upon request, he said.

The House Finance Committee is advancing a budget bill that would cut $519,000 for state parks from last year's funding levels.

Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, chairman of the Department of Natural Resources Finance Subcommittee, cut parks funding by 10 percent beyond Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed cut of $169,000.

The Senate version of the budget leaves Murkowski's cuts in place but does not include additional reductions said to force the closures.

Chenault did not return phone calls requesting comment.

"The governor's budget that went to the Legislature treated state parks very well," Morrison said, noting that the Parks Division already was preparing for the governor's cuts.

But the additional cut of $350,00 from the House Finance Committee likely would mean paying a private company to operate about 33 park units throughout the state.

Morrison said the state would lose about $289,000 from park fees if the 33 units are given to private management. With the additional loss of revenue, the total reduction to the Parks Division would be about $800,000, Morrison said. Southeast Area Park Superintendent Mike Eberhardt said adding 33 park units would put the total of privately managed parks up to 58, almost half of Alaska's 121 state parks.

The contractors would take the responsibility of upkeep, such as picking litter, cleaning restrooms, maintaining signs and information boards and fixing damaged parking barriers. Other Southeast parks slated for private or passive management include:

• Sitka: Baranof Castle State Historic Park; Halibut Point State Recreation Site; Old Sitka State Historic Site and boat launch.

• Ketchikan: Settler's Cove State Park Campground and Refuge Cove State Park.

The House version of the budget bill is expected to go to the full House of Representatives as early as Monday.

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