State and local parks facing budget cuts

Park Ranger Jason Gwinn
Park Ranger Jason Gwinn

By Michael Handy - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Just in time for summer, state and local parks across North Carolina are facing major budget cuts. There are eight state parks across our viewing area, and all of them are eliminating unnecessary expenses.

North Carolina's Division of Parks and Recreation lost nine percent of its budget in the past couple of months. One of the biggest impacts could happen at Lake Norman State Park in Iredell County where the future of canoe and pedal boat rentals remains questionable.

Local parks are also feeling the pinch. In fact, if there is a new park planned for your neighborhood, you will not see it anytime soon. Those have been put on indefinite hold.

The only exceptions would be parks like Revolution Park which is under expansion, and those will be completed because it was too late to stop.

"It's kind of sad that we got ourselves into a situation like that," said Ben Ownbey. "We can't do the things that normally would be going on."

Ownbey was talking about the fact that Lake Norman State Park's concession stands were shut down, and its boat rentals were out of business.

"It is disappointing, but I think North Carolina state parks are definitely going about it the right way," said Park Ranger Jason Gwinn. "Some other states are actually closing down parks... whereas North Carolina is trying to keep as many facilities and parks open as possible."

Gwinn said what is even more encouraging is that as of yesterday, he was given final approval to hire back enough staff members to get most of his operation up and running by the middle of next week.

"The positions are authorized through September 11th... which covers 4th of July and Labor Day... but it's a day-to-day situation." said Gwinn. "When this fiscal year ends and the new budget comes out for the next fiscal year, it could possibly change again."

The new fiscal year begins July 1st, and that is the date that has all state and local parks directors sitting on the edge of their lakes.

"As long as we can stay at this level, I think we're going to be ok," said Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Director Jim Garges.

"If you take a larger cut, then you're starting to close recreation centers one or two days a week," added Garges.

As of now, the only thing you might notice at your local park would be the grass growing a little higher or fewer security guards. That is because the department has eliminated about two dozen positions, including folks in the park watch and maintenance divisions.