Sitka Parks Feel the Strain of Fiscal Belt Tightening

State officials have rolled out their plan to terminate direct management of state parks in Sitka, including two of the most historic sites in Alaska.

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At a meeting of the Parks Citizen Advisory Board in Sitka on Tuesday morning, regional directors outlined their plan to find new management for the area parks and if no one steps forward, to put the parks into so-called “passive management.”

With the elimination of the position for Park Specialist, it’s unclear who will be responsible for the care and keeping of Sitka’s state parks. Which is why Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation had to come up with a plan. It goes like this. Option 1: Develop requests for proposals, or RFPS.

“Particularly for Halibut Point State Recreation Site, for an individual or a business to submit to the state a proposal to operate the park and receive the revenues that are currently charged there for the picnic shelters.”

Clair LeClair is the Division’s Operations Manager. She says the state is also seeking new managers for Old Sitka, Caste Hill, and the boat launch. And if no one steps forward? There’s option 2.

“So if we’re not able to attract viable proposals, particularly for Halibut Point, but any of the other sites as well, then we’re definitely going to look to other government agencies or nonprofits in the Sitka area.”

And for those areas without takers? They will go into passive management.

“Close the outhouses, so shutter them or board up the doors, so people can’t use them, because obviously if no one is there to maintain them, they’re not really safe or sanitary for the public to use.”

She stresses the public will still be able to access the lands. Municipal Administrator Mark Gorman said the city has not been formally approached by the state to take over Halibut Point.

When asked by KCAW whether the city would submit an RFP, Gorman said, “I don’t think we have a mandate from the citizens to expand services in this area right now. If anything, they want city hall to tighten it’s belt.”

“I think under the circumstances that we’re going to try to do the best we can.”

Board member AnneMarie LePalm was at the meeting and hopes that whatever the arrangement, it’s temporary.

“At some point if funding does improve statewide, then we would hope that state parks would hire again to have someone locally to manage the parks.”

The closure is written into the budget before the Governor, which reduces funding for state parks by half a million dollars.

Instead of spreading that cut evenly around the state, the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation proposed in March to end operations in Sitka and Valdez, and also eliminate one ranger position in the Wood-Tikchik Park near Dillingham.

If approved, these changes would go into affect July 1st of this year.