published Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

DeSoto State Park damage could be repaired by June

Shane Grider, a member of the DeSoto State Park Lodge maintenance crew, shows some of the worst damage at the lodge that was caused by high winds on March 18. Officials hope repairs to the lodge and restaurant are complete by late June.
Shane Grider, a member of the DeSoto State Park Lodge maintenance crew, shows some of the worst damage at the lodge that was caused by high winds on March 18. Officials hope repairs to the lodge and restaurant are complete by late June.
Photo by Ben Benton.

FORT PAYNE, Ala. -- Storm damage at DeSoto State Park is hurting the park's revenue stream, but officials at the facility near Fort Payne hope everything is back up and running before July.

Park Superintendent Ken Thomas said the park's lodge and restaurant are temporarily out of commission after storms on March 18, but repairs are under way.

"We've got damage to half of our motel rooms [and] Cabin 6 sustained damage," Thomas said Tuesday. "The modern and historic part of the lodge sustained damage which, really, it was the restaurant that took the hardest hit."

Thomas said the first goal is to get rooms 1 through 14 -- those that are least damaged -- reopened at the lodge by the end of this week.

The oldest parts of the lodge, like many of the park's stone structures, were built in the 1930s, he said. Most of the "modern" parts were built in the 1970s.

A structural engineer from Montgomery, Ala., visited the park Friday to look at the damage and start planning repairs.

Thomas said there are no official estimates, but he projected the damage at less than $250,000.

"It's not a complicated fix, there's just a lot of it," he said.

Front desk supervisor Carol Coots, who has worked at the lodge for 13 years, was behind the counter on March 18 when her daughter called to tell her of a tornado warning, she said.

"All of a sudden the rain dropped and it's so thick you can't see anything," said Coots. "Not five seconds later, that front window blew in and sucked right back out, and by the time we got back in there it was over with," she said, pointing to the front of the lodge lobby.

While the visible damage left by the storms will be wiped away over the next several weeks, the financial tally will remain, Thomas said. The storm hurt visitation during the "spring break" period, when the park usually would be at 90 percent capacity, he said.

Thomas said Alabama state parks don't receive much money from the state's general fund, but rely more on revenue from services and rental fees. That makes up as much as 90 percent of operational funding, he said.

"If I've got facilities that are down, the revenue that we use to operate is not coming in," he said. Thomas said he's still calculating the potential losses with an eye toward reopening lodge rooms and the restaurant quickly.

Shane Grider, a member of the lodge maintenance crew cleaning up on Tuesday, said park regulars keep checking on their favorite accommodations and progress on repairs.

"People call every day, 'It's not my cabin, is it?' or 'It wasn't my room, was it?'" Grider said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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