FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - A mecca for bald eagles and eagle lovers in King George Countyis one of five state parks targeted for closure by Gov. BobMcDonnell.
McDonnell's proposed budget calls for the temporary closure ofCaledon Natural Area, along with Mason Neck State Park in FairfaxCounty, False Cape State Park in Virginia Beach, Twin Lakes StatePark in Prince Edward County and Staunton River Battlefield Park inHalifax and Charlotte counties.
If the budget is approved as proposed, the parks would close tothe public, but a skeleton crew would remain on hand as caretakersuntil the budget situation improves.
Gary Waugh, spokesman for the state Department of Conservationand Recreation, which oversees the parks system, said Wednesdaythat the parks were recently notified that they could be on thechopping block.
"We looked at attendance figures, and these were among thelowest in terms of attendance per year," Waugh said. "And we weretrying to spread (closures) out geographically so no one part ofthe state would be hit harder than others."
He added that in each case there are other state parks nearby totake up the slack. For example, Westmoreland State Park, fartherdown the Potomac River, is less than an hour away from Caledon.
Revenue also was a factor, he said.
There are 35 Virginia state parks, and this appears to be thefirst time such a closure has been proposed since the first stateparks were built in the 1930s, though a similar scenario wasdiscussed and rejected in the mid-1990s. Operations in severalparks were reduced in 2003.
Waugh said the closures would save about $500,000 a year. Thereare about 20 permanent staff at the five parks, and another 20hourly workers. At Caledon, there are a park manager, chief ranger,park ranger and secretary. The park ranger position is vacant.
Waugh said that if the cuts stand, the parks would have to closeby July 1, but it could be earlier.
"Does it make sense to gear up in May and June for the summerseason and then close July 1?" he asked.
No full-time workers would be let go; about half would be movedto fill vacancies in other parks.
News of the governor's plan brought sharp reaction Wednesdayfrom park advocates in King George and elsewhere.
John LoBuglio, who was elected to the King George Board ofSupervisors in November, is a charter member of the Friends ofCaledon Natural Area. He said he doesn't support Caledon's closing,even temporarily.
"I'm disappointed, but I can understand that the park system hasalways been underfunded in comparison to the other states aroundthe nation."
Friends of Caledon heard about the proposed cuts a month ago, hesaid.
"From what I've been told, they're looking to keep open theparks that bring more revenue than they expend," LoBuglio said. "Inlight of that, Caledon is more of an educational program, naturalarea, so they don't have cabins where people come and stay. It'snot a moneymaker.
"Everybody's sort of saddened by it. So much work has gone intoit. They just opened up a new trail. If it does go into acaretaker's status, everybody's worried that things woulddeteriorate, and we don't know when the status might change."
Caledon encompasses 2,579 acres along the Potomac, with denseforest and prime habitat for eagles and other wildlife.
Johnny Finch, president of the Virginia Association for Parks,said closing parks is not a solution to the state's fiscalcrisis.
"I'm speechless," he said Wednesday. "The whole concept is justso horrendous to contemplate. If you start here, where do you gonext?"
Finch is a longtime parks advocate who lives on Lake Anna. Hiswife, Jo, heads up the Friends of Lake Anna State Park.
He said recreation and conservation benefits aside, parks helpsupport local economies.
"In 2009, state parks generated more than $175 million for theeconomy. That's on a (state) general fund investment of about $15million."
Each of the parks slated for closure, he added, has value thatgoes way beyond a budget ledger.
"Twin Lakes, for example, is Virginia's most historicallysignificant park for African-Americans. False Cape is one of themost pristine five miles on the eastern seaboard."
Last year, according to the National Association of State ParkDirectors, Virginia ranked 46th in parks spending per capita and47th in percentage of state general funds devoted to parks.
Other states are looking at similar cuts. Arizona is closing 21of its 30 parks and recreation areas by June 3.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The suicide of a 16-year-old Gloucester girl has led a community to speak up about bullying.
A Virginia Beach woman is behind bars accused of trying to poison her children and kill herself. Only 10 On Your Side talked to Lorita Aiken's mother about the charges against her.
Camden County Sheriff Tony Perry said that during the last two weeks, incidents of breaking and entering and home or vehicle larceny have increased in two areas of the county.