- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

SELMA, Ala. (AP) - Exactly seven weeks after its gates were locked, Paul Grist State Park is back in business.

Closed because of state budget problems, the park reopened Thursday with a ceremony between Dallas County and state park officials. The state signed off on an agreement for Dallas County to operate the park on a 15-year lease for $10.

Dallas County Probate Judge Kim Ballard said the process shows how politics can be put aside for the common good.

“I did not experience any partisan politics in dealing with the state,” Ballard said. “If people are trying to do the right thing - like these commissioners were and I was - and the state wanted the same thing we wanted, it worked out. It worked out marvelously.”

Rob Grant with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource said the decision to close Paul Grist Park was a difficult one given the park’s history.

“It’s been a bittersweet time for us. This park is one of our original state parks. It even predates the actual state park system as we know it. That’s 75 years,” Grant said.

Young men working in the Civilian Conservation Corps built the park in the 1930s. It’s been operating as an outdoor escape ever since.

“Generations of citizens have been using this park. It absolutely thrilled us to find a local interest in this park to keep it alive and operating,” Grant said. “It was a perfect situation of putting politics aside and working together for the common good of the citizens.”

The park generated about $40,000 in revenue last year on a $170,000 budget, but most of that - more than $100,000 - went to pay the salaries of three full-time employees. Two of those have transferred to other state parks and another, park manager Roger Nichols, retired.

Ballard expects the park to at least break even and not cost the county any money.

Nichols will work on a contract with the county to maintain the park and coordinate volunteers interested in helping.

“When you think Paul Grist State Park, you think Roger Nichols. He is the face of Paul Grist. We couldn’t do it without him,” Ballard said.

More than 2,300 people have joined a Facebook group called “Save Paul Grist State Park” and several dozen of those have volunteered to help around the park with grass cutting and other maintenance.

“You wouldn’t believe the people that showed up and said we want to keep this park open, and we’ll do whatever it takes,” said County Commissioner Roy Moore, whose district includes Paul Grist.

Admission is still $3 for adults and $1 for children and seniors.

The other parks to close in October included Bladon Springs in Choctaw County, Chickasaw in Marengo County, Florala in Covington County and Roland Cooper in Wilcox County.

Florala reopened within a week of closing as a city park. The city of Camden and Wilcox County are still in talks with the state about operating the park on the Alabama River.

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Information from: Times Journal, http://www.selmatimesjournal.com/

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