Little River meeting set for Monday

Published 4:00 am Saturday, July 17, 2010

Three public agencies will gather in Monroeville Monday to discuss options that could help keep Little River State Park open.

Gary Cole, ranger with the Alabama Forestry Commission, said his department will have representation at the informational meeting.

“I will be there and we will have other representation at the meeting,” Cole said. “This is an information-gathering meeting and nothing will be decided. We are only looking at options being suggested by other agencies in an effort to explore all possibilities when it comes to keeping Little River State Park open.”

Joey Moffett, District 7 director for the Alabama Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, will represent the department who helped to organize the meeting.

“We will be there to offer suggestions on how our Department may be able to give assistance to the Forestry Commission in an effort to keep the Park open,” Moffett said. “We have some suggestions and have presented some to the commission. We just want to make sure that we have all options out there to see if we can keep the Park open and in use.”

Little River State Park is slated for closure as of Oct. 1, according to information released by the Alabama Forestry Commission. In a series of public meetings, the Commission has cited budget cuts and constraints as the main reason for closing the park portion of the acreage that sits on the Monroe and Escambia County line.

Moffett said officials with AAVFD and regional constables have already met with Forestry Commission officials in an effort to offer ideas and assistance, if needed, to keep the park open.

“If there is something we (AAVFD) can do we want to do it to keep that Park open,” Moffett said. “We can offer some assistance and members of the Alabama Constables have also offered to assist with operations at the Park to help out.”

Escambia County Commissioner Larry White said he met with State Forester Linda Casey and discussed the closing of the Park and what it would mean to the communities that border the facility.

“Commissioner (Raymond) Wiggins and I met with Linda Casey in Montgomery to discuss the situation at Little River recently,” White said. “The Commission is and has been involved in any discussions that might lead to being able to keep the Park open.”

White said he is committed to continue his involvement in discussions with any group that would like to keep the Park open and operating as a Park.

“Since we were notified earlier this year we began looking into what we could do as a government to keep the Park open,” White said. “We will continue to look into all possibilities of keeping that Park open.”

Even if all efforts to keep the Park open fail, portions of the 2,000-acre facility will remain open to the public, Forestry Commission officials have

said. “We certainly would like to keep the Park open but that does take funding,”

Cole said. “We have explored a lot of possibilities and have not been able to come up with a definite plan that would keep the Park open. This meeting will give people a chance to offer suggestions, assistance and ideas and we are open to those discussions. The results of this meeting could be to keep the park partially open, to closing the park, to having it open at certain times. We really don’t know what will happen at this meeting.”

Moffett said his organization has offered ideas that range from volunteers to paid “camp hosts” that could eliminate some of the financial burden on the Forestry Commission associated with running the Park.

“We have suggested two or three options that we could help with in keeping the Park open,” Moffett said. “We have suggested having a camp host that would live at the Park with water and electricity provided. In return, the host would collect camping and other fees at the park and help keep the grounds and bathrooms clean. That arrangement works at other parks and it could work at Little River.”

Moffett said AAVFD officials have also suggested implementing a split revenue situation with a paid Park supervisor.

“There is another park in Alabama that has a 50/50 arrangement in regard to management of the facility,” Moffett said. “In that case, the camp manager is paid an annual salary. Once collections at the Park exceed his salary, any additional revenue is split 50/50 with the manager and the Park. It seems to work well for that Park and we’d like to see if it could be possible at Little River.”

The meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the conference room located at the water tower in Monroeville, Moffett said.

Cole said he invites comments and discussions from the public at this meeting.

“There is limited space but we will have room for those who want to get in on this discussion,” Cole said. “For us, this is a fact-gathering meeting rather than a decision-making meeting. There will be no decisions announced at this meeting. It’s healthy for people to ask questions and get answers. We could just find a solution, you just never know.”

Moffett said Sen. Marc Keahey, Rep. Alan Baker, Rep. Harry Shiver and Sen. Hank Sanders have been invited to attend the meeting. Each official represents a portion of counties served by the Little River State Park and Forest.

For those interested in attending the meeting, contact AAVFD Dist. 7 Representative Daniel Day at 267-2527 or the AFC in Brewton at 867-7798.