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State parks look to corporations for funding help
Bill and Gail Barrett and their dogs May, left, and Brodie walk Saturday along one of the trails around the lake at Unicoi State Park. - photo by Tom Reed

In a hurting economy, the state Department of Natural Resources is turning to corporate sponsorships to help fund the state park system.

In September, Verizon and Coca-Cola sponsored Free Day in the Parks. The year before, REI sponsored a volunteer day. Now, the DNR is hoping to hire consultants to analyze other corporate sponsorship opportunities.

Since 2008, the DNR has seen a decrease of about 40 percent in state appropriations, DNR Commissioner Chris Clark said. And it has also seen a decrease of about 24 percent in revenue.

“We are primarily supported by those (park) fees, so when we have that hit, 24 percent, it really does impact us pretty hard,” Clark said. Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites raises 60 percent of its operating revenue from those fees.

Over the past 18 months, the DNR has increased some fees, including raising parking fees to $5 throughout at parks throughout the state, and many parks have reduced operating hours and days. Corporate sponsorships may be able to fill in some of those gaps.

Clark isn’t sure yet how much the sponsorships may help, but the DNR has a history of working with other groups on funding, he said.

As alternate funding sources become more important, what the state parks system is doing now is seeking help to “identify those companies that share the same type of interest and mission and goals that we have so that we can look to expand our corporate donor pool potential,” Clark said.

Clark stressed that the park system would avoid too much commercialization of the parks.

“What we’re not seeking to do is rename any type of state parks after corporate donors,” he said. “We don’t even have the authority to do that, and that’s not our intent.”

But working with corporations could help the state parks stay open and keep fees reasonable.

One group that helps the park system with funding is the Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites.

The group’s executive director, Andy Fleming, said he looks forward to working with the state park system in funding efforts.

“It’s a different way of doing things than in the past, of course, but they’re just trying to maximize the amount of financial support going into the system,” Fleming said.

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