Inman, Lockhart lead criticism of park closings
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Published: 29-Mar-2011

Yesterday (Monday, March 28), the Oklahoma House Democratic caucus met and voted unanimously to oppose any closings of government-run parks.

 In a critique provided to CapitolBeatOK, what was described as “a united urban and rural front” criticized the Tourism and Recreation Department for what Democratic leaders called actions “to unilaterally and without input from the public close seven state parks.”

 Scott Inman of Del City, the House minority leader, asked for an official caucus position, and his 30 colleagues supported him. Inman said, “I was concerned given the manner in which the decision was made to close these parks, but even more so when I saw that six of the seven parks targeted for closure were along our Eastern border.

 “This appears to unfairly punish rural Eastern Oklahoma, in which countless families rely on these parks for recreation, and the community relies on the parks for revenue. These are public parks, and the public needs to recognize their right to oppose these efforts. All of the Democrats in the House of Representatives have vowed to fight these closures, and we won’t stop until our parks are protected.”

Agency officials have said the parks are slated to close August 15. The agency faces cuts of perhaps 5% in the coming fiscal year, after a 13% reduction in the current year. The agency has said the cuts would save the state up to $700,000 in the near-term, with larger savings over time. 

Opposition has emerged in some areas around the park. If plans to close the facilities advance, some communities and groups are asking for a year to find ways to assume control of the parks at the local or regional level. In the case of the park near Heavener, Carl Albert State College has expressed interest n running it after July 1, the Tulsa World reports. 

 State Rep. James Lockhart of Heavener represents the area which includes Heavener Runestone State Park, one of seven chosen for possible closure. He has been critical of the tourism department in recent public meetings and in commentaries.

 In his comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, Lockhart said, “The more I look into this issue, the more I uncover that the closure of our parks is not a last resort of the Tourism Department.

 “They made a hasty decision to close these seven parks, and I have yet to hear a valid justification from them. They are still posting job openings and have a revolving fund balance of over $39 million – in my opinion, they can take a harder look and find ways to save these public parks.”

 The parks under consideration for closure, and their locations, are:

 •Adair State Park, Stilwell

•Beaver Dunes, Beaver

•Boggy Depot, Atoka

•Brushy Lake, Sallisaw

•Heavener Runestone State Park, Heavener

•Lake Eucha, Jay

•Wah-Sha-She, Copan

 Inman concluded his statement by saying, “Our public parks belong to the people, and House Democrats will oppose any and all efforts to privatize or close them.”

 Agency officials have said the parks are slated to close August 15. The agency faces cuts of perhaps 5% in the coming fiscal year, after a 13% reduction in the current year. The agency has said the cuts would save the state up to $700,000 in the near-term, with larger savings over time. 

Opposition has emerged in some areas around the seven parks. If plans to close the facilities advance, some communities and groups are asking for time to find ways to assume control of the parks at the local or regional level. 

 In the case of the park near Heavener, Carl Albert State College has expressed interest in running it after July 1, the Tulsa World reports.

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