The future of Explore Park remains in limbo after a House of Delegates subcommittee tabled legislation that would make the park’s governing board a state agency.
Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, sponsored the bill (House Bill 2283) in an effort to make the struggling, 1,100-acre park eligible for recurring state funding. Head’s bill would have made the park’s governing board, the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority, a state agency reporting to the secretary of natural resources.
A subcommittee of the House General Laws Committee tabled Head’s bill on Tuesday.
State lawmakers have treated the park as a “nonstate” agency, meaning it had to rely on earmarks approved by the General Assembly. But lawmakers slashed funding for most nonstate agencies — such as nonprofit parks, museums and cultural attractions — during the depths of the recession.
“The problem is it’s out of money,” said Head, who is a member of the park’s governing board. “It’s pretty much out of gas. This was, in many ways, our Hail Mary pass.
Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, has a companion bill (Senate Bill 1283) to create a nonreverting fund that could be used for park operations, facilities maintenance, and new projects and programs. The Senate has passed the legislation and sent it to the House of Delegates. But Newman’s bill does not provide money to put into the fund.
Head said Friday that he is holding out faint hope that House and Senate budget-writing committees might include some funding for the park in the budget plans they release on Sunday.
If the authority can’t come up with a viable plan to sustain the park, the property could revert back to the state.
“We’re hopeful that there’s going to be some motion somewhere,” Head said.
– Michael Sluss