Rep. Reynolds Works To Reverse Decision
By David Howell
OAKLAND – George Payne Cossar State Park will be closed October 31, employees learned in a meeting Friday.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) announced the decision Friday, after its request for a reduction in force was approved Thursday by the Mississippi State Personnel Board. The announcement stated that the request was “based on a shortage of funds.”
MDWFP contends that it continues to face budgetary challenges regarding loss of revenue, with George P. Cossar State Park experiencing the largest sustained deficit, necessitating a reduction in force,” the department reported in a press release Monday.
MDWFP spokesman Jim Walker reported that 11 jobs will be eliminated with the park closure.
Walker also cited a 21 percent occupancy rate in the park’s cabins and campgrounds, triggering a $300,000 deficient in operating expenses at the facility as a driving force in the decision to close the state park.
“This is our first time, it is a difficult time,” Walker said about the closing. “We (MDWFP) took a 20 percent cut in Fiscal Year 2010; this has been a very, very difficult year,” Walker continued.
Walker also reported that three of the department’s six district offices, including the District Two Office located near Enid Lake in Yalobusha County, will also be closed.
“We are going to utilize regional offices,” Walker said, explaining that the agency will shift to three district offices, one serving north Mississippi, a second serving central portions of the state and a third for south Mississippi. The district office serving north Mississippi will be located in Tupelo.
A central warehouse the department operates will also be closed, bringing the total job reduction to 19.
The weekend report of the closing had others scrambling to organize support for the park as work begins to lobby the agency to reverse the decision.
State Representative Tommy Reynolds, whose district encompasses the park, reported that he learned of the decision late Friday. Reynolds and State Representative Warner McBride are scheduled to meet with MDWFP Executive Director Dr. Sam Polles this week to talk about different options.
“This was a real shock,” Reynolds told the Herald Monday.
“We need to show them that there is good support for our park all around the state,” Reynolds added.
Reynolds noted that the state has a tremendous investment in the park. “It would take millions and millions of dollars to build this type of park.” Reynolds also pointed to hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been appropriated by the state for renovations and improvements at the state park just in recent years.
While the cut was made to shore up the state agency’s budget, it could come at a cost to the county budget.
“This will be a tremendous impact to the county as far as lost revenues,” District 1 Supervisor Tommy Vaughn told the Herald. “That park brings a lot of money into the county,” Vaughn added.
“I am saddened like all of our people in this area by the potential closing of the park,” Yalobusha County Economic Director Bob Tyler said, adding that the park is an affordable destination that attracts people to the county.
Tyler also works as a consultant for the MDWFP, and previously worked as the agency’s deputy director for nine years.
“I am certainly aware that the department, like other state agencies, faces extremely difficult budget decisions,” Tyler added. “We will see what the future holds.”
Vaughn is also a regular camper at the facility and had one explanation for the decrease in the usage cited by MDWFP.
“When the state went to ReserveAmerica, it really hurt the park,” Vaughn explained. “People we have camped with out there for years and years just quit.”
Vaughn was referring to the Canadian company used by MDWFP to provide online campsite reservation processing.
While the $300,000 deficient cited by MDWFP has been touted as a driving factor in the decision, Reynolds remains optimistic that the park could operate more profitable if given an opportunity.
“If the park is closed, the acreage leased by MDWFP from the U.S. Corps of Engineer would revert back to the Corps,” Reynolds explained.
“You don’t want to turn it back to the Corps,” Reynolds said. “The Corps is not budgeted to run that park.”