The governor's call for more statewide budget cuts has the state's public parks system rushing to find areas to scale back, and Hard Labor Creek State Park is among them.
Due to the state's estimated $1.5 billion shortfall, Gov. Sonny Perdue is looking at closing up to 13 state parks and historic sites, according to Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks.
"There's been a very long list of budget cut recommendations that have been approved by the [Department of Natural Resources] board," Hatcher said. "I couldn't tell you one way or the other which sites would be on that. I would think that parks that are pulling in more revenue would be the least likely [to be closed]."
In 2007, Hard Labor Creek had a $59,485 profit margin, according to the parks system's FY 2007 year end report. Hard Labor had the eighth highest profit margin of the state's 72 public parks, which should ensure that it is not one of the 13 parks to be shuttered.
Hard Labor Creek occupies 5,800 acres in Walton County and is well known for its 18-hole golf course. The park also has two lakes, 20 cottages for renting, picnic shelters and barbecue pits, a swimming beach and a horse riding ring among other amenities.
Last year 330,000 people visited the park, making it the state's 12th most popular park.
Most of the parks in the Georgia system run at a loss - 59 of the 72 parks ran at a loss in 2007 with losses ranging from $3,000 to $700,000. The entire parks system has a budget of $4.3 million. Last year the system achieved a small profit margin of $7,000.
Hatcher said the parks system has been operating under state budget cuts for a number of years and has had to work with a large number of unfilled job vacancies.
"The cumulative effect is pretty significant," Hatcher said. "There's almost a 20 percent vacancy rate."
At the request of the governor, the parks system is preparing a list of recommendations for a 6-10 percent budget cut.
In the meantime, all parks maintenance projects have been suspended as has all travel for parks employees Hatcher said.
Ronnie Eakins, regional operations manager for Georgia State Parks said there are about three positions at Hard Labor Creek that they have not been able to fill because of the state's hiring moratorium for all state agencies.
"We're running the park with about two-thirds the normal staff," he said.
Other cost cutting measures at Hard Labor Creek and other parks include the scaling back of the number of times the grass is cut to save on fuel.
"At Hard Labor this month, we used 64 less gallons of fuel than we did the previous month," Eakins said.
The parks are also reducing the number of ranger patrols.
"Instead of seeing the ranger two to three times a night, you may only see him one time a night depending on the usage of the park," Eakins said.
Some camping areas at Hard Labor Creek, which has 63 campsites, are also being closed to save on the costs of maintaining so many sites and on the power used to run the water heaters that service those sites Eakins said.
All of these cost cutting measures at Hard Labor have resulted in a $1,000 cost savings in the first month that they were put in place he said.
"Everything we can do at each individual site is going to be crucial to helping us maintain our operation," Eakins said.