Amendment approved to open parks

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

Tennessee's House Finance Committee on Tuesday adopted an amendment to a bill that would open area state parks by using surplus money. The amendment was adopted to the supplemental appropriations bill, the legislation that assures the state budget is balanced for the current fiscal year.
   "The adoption of the park's amendment is a very positive step in getting our parks opened," said State Rep. Ralph Cole, R-Elizabethton. "The amendment was approved by a unanimous vote in our House Finance Committee, which should weigh heavily as it travels to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration there," he said.
   If the Senate Finance Committee approves the amendment, the state will use money currently available in the Land Acquisition Fund which, as of June 30, 2001, had a reserve balance of $12 million. The amendment would appropriate a sum sufficient to immediately open all of the closed or partially closed state parks. Reopening state parks is an issue that has been postponed while legislators debated how to meet a $350 million shortfall in the current budget.
   "The amendment presents a plan to open the parks immediately since we would be using fund reserves," Cole said.
   Roan Mountain State Park was one of 37 parks that had its hours restricted after last year's state mandated budget cuts. State parks operate under the auspices of the Department of Environment and Conservation which experienced budget cutbacks that closed 14 state parks in 2001.
   "The amendment to open the parks is the result of many discussions with state leaders. I hope the Senate will act quickly to approve this measure and get our parks open again," Cole said.