Red Top park seeks sustainable vision
by Neil B. McGahee
Apr 25, 2013 | 1570 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Red Top Mountain State Park Manager Daniel Hill made it clear to a community meeting Tuesday — one of more than 60 statewide that may decide how Red Top and the state parks system operates — if the budget-beleaguered park is to remain viable, there must be a sustainable vision.

“Red Top is a key player in the community with almost $30 million in economic impact,” he said. “Our vision is to become a national model for resource protection, ecosystem management and recreational opportunities.”

Hill, who also oversees the Etowah Indian Mounds and Pickett’s Mill Battlefield in Dallas, said the first part of the vision is the business planning process, called Direction 2015, and the goal is for the Georgia state park system to be 75 percent self-sufficient by 2015.

“D15 not only gives us current information on our system,” he said, “but it also provides a road map into the future because it allows us to analyze every aspect of our operation.These public meetings let us share with our stakeholders the steps that we’re creating in these challenging, financial times.”

Those financial challenges hit in fiscal year 2009 when the state budget was slashed by 39 percent and the DNR received a directive to seek a more self-sustainable operation.

One of the victims of the cuts was the highly under-utilized Lodge at Red Top Mountain, which closed in 2010.

“With the closure of the lodge,” Hill said, “staffing and budget numbers improved significantly. The return on investment exceeded 124 percent.”

Hill said some of the short-term recommendations include:

• operate the site using cost-based accounting, a process of providing detailed cost information so management can better control operations

• pursue opportunities to employ private concessionaires on-site.

• utilize at least 12 special events to help draw more visitors to the site.

• collect ZIP code data from visitors to improve marketing and programming efforts.

“Two of the most important numbers in the state park service is the cost per visitor and the revenue per visitor,” Hill said. “In FY10, we brought in $2.50 per visitor but we were spending $2.59 per visitor. We need to raise that margin but we can’t do it by raising prices. It’s about which markets we have not tapped in order to cover our costs.”

One market is the massive LakePoint Sporting Community & Town Center complex, which is being built in nearby Emerson, one exit south of the park on Interstate 75.

Could the arrival of LakePoint result in reopening the overnight facilities in the park?

“This is something we haven’t ruled out,” Hill said. “There has been plenty of talk about the lodge and restaurant reopening. Who knows how big LakePoint is going to get and how soon it’s going to get there? We must be very proactive in our relationship with LakePoint.”

In order to enjoy continued success, the business plan recommends that:

• the park seek to enhance the recovery of operating expenses to at least 118 percent by improving revenue while cutting expenses.

• improve the diversity of recreational and interpretive programs to help draw visitors to the park.

• improve the effectiveness of marketing and sales.

• establish more consistent customer service.

• expand partnership opportunities with partners like the Cartersville museums, the Bartow County School system, the Atlanta Astronomy Club, the Southeast School of Survival and LakePoint.

The plans for the Etowah Indian Mounds will be presented May 7 at 7 p.m. in the museum’s AV room.

For more information on the business plans, visit www.gastateparks.org/businessplans.