Haslam budget laying groundwork for state park privatization beyond Fall Creek Falls?

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed 2017-18 budget includes an unprecedented $58.8 million in capital spending at state parks across Tennessee, leading to speculation that the administration has plans for privatization at three state park that get most of the money, reports the Times-Free Press.

That would follow the pattern set earlier when the 2016-2017  Haslam budget included major funding for Fall Creek Falls state park. Only months after the budget was adopted did the administration announce that the park’s operations would be privatized after the state spends money building a new park inn and other improvements.

“At this time, there are no active plans in place” in regards to further privatization efforts at those three parks, Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing and Henry Horton, said a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson in an email Friday.

Elected leaders from those park areas polled this week — all in Middle or West Tennessee — also said they have not been told if the state plans to pursue privatization at their parks. But each were familiar with the concept after a 2015 attempt to outsource hospitality operations at 11 state parks that failed because of the facilities’ poor conditions.

…(State Sen. John) Stevens’ district includes Henry County’s Paris Landing State Park, which is set to receive $23.07 million for the demolition of its inn and construction of a new inn that would include conference space and a restaurant.

He said he supports rebuilding the inn and is thankful for the administration’s proposed investment, adding that locals are interested in having input in the facility’s design.

“I have spoken to our local chamber and there is support in the community for the new building coupled with concern, privatization being one,” Stevens said.

…Marshall County’s Henry Horton State Park would receive $10.05 million under the proposed budget for the demolition of the inn, visitor center, and restaurant there. The money would also pay for the construction of a new visitor center and restaurant, but not another inn.

…An inn would remain part of Pickwick Landing State Park in Hardin County under the proposed budget. Nearly $12 million would be spent to renovate the current facility, which includes a conference center and restaurant.

2 Responses to Haslam budget laying groundwork for state park privatization beyond Fall Creek Falls?

  • Avatar
    Betty Anderson says:

    If the Administration wants to spend $58.8 m to improve the state’s parks, why then turn them over to private companies to make a profit? If private companies have so much faith in their ability to run them better, shouldn’t they be willing to make the investment themselves? As someone who has worked for privatization companies in the past, I can assure you “privatization” isn’t always synonymous with “better.” State parks are a treasure to Tennesseans and our neighbors and should remain in the hands of the dedicated employees who have run them at less than optimal conditions for years. BTW, no active plans “at this time” sounds a lot like “until the appropriation is approved.”

  • Avatar
    Dave Sprague says:

    Governor Haslam: Because I am a resident of Tennessee I own our state parks. They were build and are maintained by my tax dollars. I use them to hike, to fish, and to camp.
    When you consider the fact that each Tennessee citizen has equal equity in our parks, you should be able to understand the reasons why we prefer that the State maintain complete control of our parks.
    Privatization, by definition, takes my park away from me and allows some corporation somewhere to control what happens.
    I forbid this to happen.
    Leave our parks in our own hands. Don’t sell our birthright.

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