Ten months after Hurricane Katrina riddled the state with unprecedented wind and water damage, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) has made great strides in renovations despite dealing with red tape over a lack of needed funds.
Buccaneer, Percy Quin, Paul B. Johnson, Clarkco and Roosevelt state parks received the brunt of damage from the category four storm, with Shepard, Natchez, Leroy Percy and Lefleur’s Bluff state parks sustaining damage to some extent. Minor damage was reported at John Kyle, Wall Doxey and J.P. Coleman state parks.
Two parks closed
Mississippi State Parks has spent approximately $560,000 of some $1 million so far to repair damaged facilities. Buccaneer State Park in Waveland and Shepard are the only parks that remain closed because debris removal and repairs are still ongoing.
“We estimate to build Buccaneer back to the original park will be approximately $12.3 million,” said Mark Griffin, division director of Mississippi State Parks. “The budget issue that we’re having to deal with is that we had to take $560,000 from our operating budget and now are having to wait on our reimbursement from FEMA. The things that we would have done with this $560,000 to make needed routine repair and renovations to our parks have had to wait because we had to get these parks back in operation and producing revenue.”
The $12.3 million that it will cost to rebuild Buccaneer will be funded through Department of Finance. The other $1 million in expenses will be paid by MDWFP with some FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement.
No additional improvements are being made at this time, only needed repairs due to Katrina, said Griffin.
“Our hope is that within six months, most all repairs will be done with the exception of Buccaneer, which could take two to two-and-a-half years to complete,” he said.
Fortunately, everything that was lost is replaceable, noted Griffin.
“Our parks are an invaluable resource to our towns and communities where they are located,” he said. “I’ve spoken to numerous businesses in the communities that parks are located and they all agree that our parks are a major reason for their success.”
For example, when Griffin was in the field working as a park manager at John Kyle State Park in Sardis, the average cabin/campground guest checking in wanted to know where to buy gas for their boat and vehicle, bait for fishing and where to find grocery stores for food, discount stores for general items and restaurants and shopping centers.
“The money they spend staying as our park guest doesn’t compare to what they spend in the community,” said Griffin. “The good news is that all our parks are up and running and producing very good revenue except for Buccaneer. To date through May 31, our revenue for the entire park system is up 12.32%. When our fiscal year ends on June 30, I think we’ll all be very pleased with our visitation and revenue figures.”
Griffin emphasized how well everyone collaborated on expediting repairs needed to reopen the parks.
“I cannot express how hard our park staffs worked to get us back to the point where we are today with our parks,” he said. “From our park management to maintenance to food service employees, everyone contributed to this effort and it just goes to show how much pride that our employees take in the jobs that they do. Our entire agency worked together during Katrina. Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks were truly working as a team with everybody pitching in and helping the other.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.