State parks trying to make things exciting

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ATLANTA --- Georgia's state parks are losing money because they're boring, according to consultants hired by park supporters to advise the state on how to make the network of 64 campgrounds, golf courses and historic homes pay for themselves.

Though the assessment might have stung momentarily, park officials shook it off and drafted a plan for adding pizzazz, the man in charge of those plans told the Natural Resources Board on Tuesday.

"The business-management part of this process has altered our DNA," said Paul Nelson, the assistant director of parks, recreation and historic sites for the Department of Natural Resources.

The goal is to generate money to replace the 43 percent of annual appropriations cut by the Legislature.

Nelson's mission is for each facility to generate at least 75 percent of what it takes to operate. Parks that have lodges already average 91 percent, and the seven golf courses average 71 percent.

One way of getting cash is to sell sponsorships. Another is a proposed revolving-loan fund like the University System of Georgia uses to build dorms and parking garages.

The first step was training park rangers to think more like people in the hospitality business who watch the money closer and initiate on-site entertainment that will bring people in for multiple visits.

They've drafted proposals for each park, and a series of public hearings will allow hikers, campers, fishing enthusiasts and other park users to offer their input.

"There's going to be very significant changes in the management of the parks, and we want everyone on board," Nelson said.


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