State Parks director Greg Lein speaks to a crowd at Lake Guntersville State Park. That’s Mayor Leigh Dollar at left. The man turned in his chair just in front of Mr. Lein is Michael Jeffries, superintendent of the Lake Guntersville park.
New users, new revenue
keys to park’s future
The State Park system must find a way to attract new, younger users and generate more revenue if it is to remain healthy into the future.
That was the message Greg Lein, director of the State Park system, shared with about 70 people who attended a meeting at Lake Guntersville State Park Monday night to talk about the park’s future.
Folks in the crowd shared 2 sentiments with Mr. Lein:
• They still remember a poorly executed logging plan in the park 3 years ago and want to make sure that never happens again.
• Some frequent trail users in the park said they’re willing to buy a pass or pay an entrance fee to help the park. They noted they pay nothing now and said themselves that’s not right.
Mr. Lein said he didn’t want to offend anyone with the statement, but the user base of the State Park system is aging. He said it’s mostly older folks who camp and partake of other traditional park activities.
“We don’t want those activities to change,” he said. “We want to still be able to offer them. But at the same time, we have to offer something to get younger people in the parks.”
Parks officials are looking increasingly at “adventure tourism” as a way to draw those folks. They’re considering ziplines, water tours and other activities in their planning.
“Space Camp in Huntsville is a great model,” he said. “It’s a camp for young people based around space travel. You could do the same thing at Guntersville Park and have a ‘Bass Camp’ for young people.”
Mr. Lein also said that Lake Guntersville State Park, from a business point of view, still hasn’t fully recovered from the 2011 tornadoes. The park lost $1 million in 2012 and about half that much in 2013.
It’s taking time to build the business back, especially the camping.
“The people who were regulars at the campground didn’t quit camping,” he said. “They went somewhere else and we have to win them back.”
Someone in the audience asked if the golf course contributes towards the park being profitable.
Mr. Lein said the golf course’s business also took a hit from the tornado and has not yet fully recovered.
“We get a lot of questions about why we are in the golf course business,” he said. There are 6 courses at parks around the state.
“You have to remember that when these parks were built in the 1970s, there weren’t a lot of courses open to the public. Unless you were a member of a country club, it was a big deal to have a state park course where you could play.”
He said the golf course still helps draw business to the lodge that otherwise wouldn’t be there and it’s important to keep golfing available.
He suggested that adventure tourism in the coming years might help boost the parks’ popularity just as golf did in the 1970s.
“It might just be the thing to get more people into the parks and make them more attractive destinations,” he said.