The Alaska Legislature heard the message that state parks are important to Alaskans. A House-Senate conference committee last weekend restored the $280,000 in cuts the House had proposed in the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation budget, and then some.
"They took the Senate number, minus $25,000," said Parks Director Jim Stratton. "But since the Senate number included a $50,000 increase, I'm getting $25,000 more (than last year).
"The Senate has always been very supportive of parks," Stratton added.
Stratton said the increased funding in support of parks was a direct result of public support.
"I credit the success to citizens on the Kenai Peninsula and Sitka and Big Lake for telling the Legislature how important their parks were to them," he said. "There was a tremendous outpouring of support for parks.
"We had a lot of activity out of Anchor River and Nikiski, people who said, 'Whoa, you can't do that.'"
Fourteen sites around the state, including Captain Cook State Recreation Area north of Nikiski, Anchor River State Recreation Area and Stariski State Recreation Site, were on the chopping block because of the proposed $280,000 cuts. The cuts would have removed all Parks presence from Sitka.
"Unfortunately, I had to put a list out, but certainly that's what motivated people, when their park was on the list," Stratton said. "But if I hadn't, and somebody's park had taken a cut, they would have asked me 'Why didn't you tell us?'"
The state fiscal year falls in the middle of the tourist season when state parks are busiest. The sites on Stratton's list would have closed on July 1 if the House cuts had gone through.
As it stands, all 14 sites on Stratton's list will remain open until at least July 1, 2001, when a new fiscal year begins.
"It's business as usual," Stratton said. "We'll be open and ready to greet the public."
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