Senate Bill 2486 could lead to a major shakeup in the management and ownership of much of the state park system.
The bill, as passed by the state Senate on Feb. 5 and transmitted to the House, creates a committee to study ownership and management issues through the park system. The original bill would have mandated some of the prospective changes that are to be studied.
Among the issues are whether to renew, renegotiate or end agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage George P. Cossar, John Kyle and Hugh White state parks; whether to turn ownership of some parks over to local governments, such as Paul B. Johnson State Park to Hattiesburg or Forrest County; and leasing groups of other parks to management companies.
The bill proposes the possibility of leasing management of Percy Quin State Park as part of a group, including Buccaneer State Park near Waveland and possibly Paul B. Johnson State Park and Clark Creek Natural Area in Wilkinson County.
Scenic Rivers Development Alliance holds a management agreement with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to manage Quail Hollow Golf Course at Percy Quin.
“I can appreciate the need to look at management practices from time to time to ensure we are maximizing the opportunities that may be available to us,” said Joseph Parker, executive director of Scenic Rivers. “The pandemic has forced us all to re-evaluate the approach we take to our business practices.
“If passed, I’m sure the Mississippi State Parks Study Committee will take an objective look at the current parks model and see if these are ways to improve access to those parks while simultaneously improving the financial management.
“I’d hope that we don’t lose any of these public attractions and resources at the end of the study. Our natural resources, especially the state parks, are second to none and are a significant part of the appeal to visitors to our great state.”
While the Quail Hollow agreement isn’t addressed in the bill, if new management is deemed necessary, it’s possible if not likely that any company that might be interested managing Percy Quin would want to take charge of the golf course, as well.
Parker said it was too early to speculate on whether Scenic Rivers would have concerns about another organization taking charge of Quail Hollow, or whether Scenic Rivers might be interested in managing the entire park or a group of parks which aren’t all in the organization’s area.
“It’s hard to do ‘what-if’ at this stage. We’d need to wait and see if the committee actually is formed and then see what their recommendations would be,” Parker said.
Also in Southwest Mississippi, the bill proposes to study managing Lake Lincoln as a fisheries lake rather than a state park; converting Natchez State Park into a wildlife management area; and other management possibilities for Clark Creek.