LeFleur’s Bluff State Park isn’t on a list of possible state parks that could be privatized or transferred to local governments.
A bill that would’ve transferred some state parks to private operators and counties was watered down last week in the Senate.
There are 24 state parks (plus one nature area) and the original bill would’ve possibly transferred six of them to local governments and put 10 others under the management of a private vendor.
LeFleur’s Bluff, which is the only state park located in the Jackson metro area, wouldn’t have been affected by the legislation.
SB 2486 would’ve open the door for some state parks to be transferred to counties and others to be leased by private companies. It is authored by state Sen. Neil Whaley, R-Potts Camp and passed the Senate by a 32-11 margin.
The Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee in the Senate replaced the original bill with a study committee that will report to the Legislature before next session.
Even though the bill was reduced to a study committee, some lawmakers blasted the bill such as state Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory.
“State parks belong to the people of Mississippi and have been neglected just like every other core function of government while we have given billions of dollars away to the well-connected, billions of dollars away to out-of-state corporations,” Bryan said.
State Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune, was on the Wildlife Committee for eight years and she said that privatization could bring benefits, citing a park (Little Black Creek) in her district that was once managed by the Pat Harrison Waterway District and is now privately run.
“We are not utilizing our resources like other states around us for our state parks,” Hill said. “I’m just happy that someone is taking notice that something has to be done, no matter how long it has been neglected.”
The move could come after the state parks had a spectacular revenue year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For fiscal 2020, Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks estimated $142,000 in overnight accommodation fees, $730,000 in camping fees and $230,000 in day use fees.
Overnight cabin and motel accommodations were up more than 222 percent to more than $458,000, camping revenues increased 620 percent (more than $5.26 million) and day use fees had an increase of 28.7 percent (more than $296,000).
The committee, which will consist of five senators and five representatives to be appointed by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn will consider whether to renew the leases of three parks in north Mississippi that are located on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property.
The committee would analyze the cost of renovating John W. Kyle, George P. Cossar and Hugh White state parks and how much it would cost to remove the infrastructure if the leases weren’t renewed.
The committee will also take up the issue whether to transfer several state parks to local governments if they are willing, including Great River Road State Park to the town of Rosedale or Bolivar County, Florewood Park to either the city of Greenwood or Leflore County, Tombigbee State Park to either Lee County or the city of Tupelo, Lake Lowndes to Lowndes County, Legion State Park to the city of Louisville or Winston County and Paul B. Johnson, which could be transferred to either the city of Hattiesburg or Forrest County.
The committee will also evaluate whether Lake Lincoln State Park could be operated as a fisheries lake and Natchez State Park should be downgraded to a wildlife management area.
Other parks that could be leased to separate vendors includes:
- A north Mississippi group of Trace, J.P. Coleman, Tishomingo and Wall Doxey state parks
- A central Mississippi group that consists of Golden Memorial, Roosevelt and Clarkco.
- A southern group of Percy Quinn and Buccaneer that could possibly include Paul B. Johnson and the Clark Creek Natural Area.
The committee also would examine issues related to the oversight of the leases and how much the vendors could charge in admission fees.
Another bill, House Bill 89 authored by state Rep. Scott Bounds, R-Philadelphia, would provide $5.12 million in improvements for state parks, including $350,000 for water well improvements required by the state Department of Health at Clarkco, Leroy Percy, George P. Cossar and Tombigbee state parks. Another $1.1 million would pay for wastewater treatment system repairs and improvements at Clarkco, Lake Lincoln, Tombigbee and Wall Doxey state parks.