It's time Gov. Don Sundquist made good on his promise.
In January he promised to re-open 14 state parks, including Norris, Frozen Head, and beautiful Burgess Falls. Now he says it's up to the legislature. They, in turn, say it's up to him.
Was he right when he made the promise? Or is he right now? Was his pledge--reported in this newspaper and others--merely a ruse to turn down the heat applied by thousands of outdoor lovers? Or did he really mean it?
Those of us who love our parks should remind the governor we haven't forgotten the promises he made. One way is by sending him our spare pennies. His address?
Gov. Don Sundquist
Nashville, TN 37243
His e-mail: email@example.com
Phone: (615) 741-2001; Fax: (615) 532-1353
More than 30 statewide conservation and environmental groups are on record supporting a plan Mayor Victor Ashe came up with last November, when he recommended that one penny of the 21.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax be dedicated to keeping parks open. Presently most of that money goes to building roads, including some we'd be better off without.
At a public meeting in Nashville on Wednesday, Tennesseans for State Parks--the umbrella name for 30-plus conservation groups--went on record in support of dedicated funding for parks, so they'd never close again.
According to Sundquist, keeping those parks closed will save about $3 million this year.
Actually that's not true. As I've shown in previous columns, state parks draw much more money into Tennessee's economy annually than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Burgess Falls alone attracts 400,000 visitors per year and costs only $90,000 per year to staff. You do the math.
But even if the state saved $3 million this year by keeping those parks closed, the state senate transportation committee brought perspective to that figure earlier this week when it voted to give the Tennessee Department of Transportation $1.55 billion to spend this fiscal year.
That's more than 500 times the $3 million needed to keep our parks open. Couldn't TDOT, that land-devouring bureaucracy, spare one-500th of its budget to keep our parks open?
Of course it could.
One of my favorite writers these days is none other than my own sister Kathleen Williams, who co-chairs Tennesseans for State Parks. She and I learned a love for Tennessee's great outdoors on frequent family outings spent swimming, canoeing and hiking in the Great Smokies and places like Norris, Fall Creek Falls, Rock Island and Savage Gulf. I'm proud of Kathleen for making it her mission in life to preserve such treasures and to seek out new ones for preservation. In her speech Wednesday before a combined meeting of the Tennessee senate and house conservation committees, she said the following:
"We should all thank God for making such a beautiful land as Tennessee. And we all have to thank you and your predecessors and this governor and the governors before for the beautiful parks we have here in Tennessee. For what we've set aside in our state parks. How many lives have been forever touched and blessed by this land we love....
"Oh the places we've saved--the 2000-year-old remains of Old Stone Fort... jewels like Black Mountain, and the Chimneys and Scotts Gulf and dozens of other sites, and what a bargain they've been. Our state parks are wondrous, because Tennessee is wondrous.
"We're here because we want that legacy of protecting the best Tennessee has to offer to continue. To do that we need to shift our priorities. We want to talk here today about more than reopening parks. This is more than about parks closed. More than about revenues and budgets and gates locked. Or people locked out and people laid off."
People locked out, people laid off. Sundquist promised to reverse that. Legislators too have promised to reverse that. It's time they stopped pointing fingers at one another and got together to keep their promises to you and to me.
Buddy, can you spare a penny?
Send it to the governor.
He'll get the message.