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State parks budget cuts will hit two area sites
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Cuts to the state’s Department of Natural Resources budget mean two local attractions — the Dahlonega Gold Museum and Smithgall Woods Conservation Area and Lodge — will offer fewer services this year.

The state department, projecting a 24 percent loss in revenue, will reduce services and days of operation at parks and historic sites across the state beginning July 1, according to a news release.

The DNR also has eliminated 81 vacant positions, laid off 95 full and part-time employees and will implement monthly furloughs to make up for the lost revenue.

As part of the cuts, days of operation at the Dahlonega Gold Museum will be reduced from seven days to five on July 1, said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for the DNR.

"We’re in discussions with the local community to see what kind of support they can offer," Hatcher said.

The lodge at Smithgall Woods also will be affected. Visitors no longer will have meals provided as part of their overnight stays, Hatcher said.

Other changes include an increase in parking fees and new charges for other services.
Parking fees increased to $5 daily and $50 annually on May 20. Park officials hope the increase will generate an additional $1.2 million in revenue for park maintenance and construction.

Many services that were free, such as interpretive programs and guided hikes, now will be fee-based programs, according to the release.

All the details of the changes, which will occur at 12 state historic sites and a number of state parks, still are unclear, Hatcher said. DNR officials are trying to determine when the changes will become effective, but most changes in hours and days of operation will happen July 1, Hatcher said.

Although this is the first year that Hatcher said budget cuts have affected park and historic site visitors, budget cuts are nothing new to the Department of Natural Resources. Nearly every year since 2001, the department has had to deal with a reduction in revenues, Hatcher said.

"We’ve been holding positions vacant, we’ve been putting off projects, we’ve been not cutting the grass and fixing vehicles ... now we’re at the point where we have no choice but to have some impacts on our visitors," she said.

Hatcher said she was not sure whether further park changes would occur as a result of the current economic situation. Nearly half the department’s budget relies on tax-based revenues from the state.

"I’d like to say ‘no,’ but state revenues aren’t looking very good right now, so we’ll see when we get further reports," she said.

For more information on the changes park visitors can go to www.GeorgiaStateParks.org or call 800-864-7275.

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