"Things are changing; I realize that," Landrum said. "You've got to think ahead a century or two when these may be the only remnants of natural settings."
Derrick Crandall, president and CEO of the American Recreation Coalition, an organization that protects outdoor recreational activities, said declining visitation is a problem at national parks. Last year visits were down 5 percent, Crandall said. A recent study showed one reason is that the parks aren't appealing to younger, urban Americans. They want activities such as zip-lining, he said.
By inviting the public-private partnerships, Alabama is joining an increasing trend.
"It is both a long-standing tradition and a trend," Crandall said. "At the federal level, there are all kinds of things people can do at national parks."
For instance, he said 60 percent of all skiing in the United States takes place in national forests, and in 2011 Congress passed legislation that encourages non-winter activities, such as zip lines, in ski areas on U.S. Forest Service lands. Congress thought it would help increase employment in rural areas and increase revenue, Crandall said.
The private operators collect fees for the activities and a portion of those fees is paid back to the host — in the case of the ski slopes to the Forest Service, Crandall said.
In the case of the private operators in Alabama, the Alabama State Parks would receive the funding, Crandall said.
In Gulf Shores, individuals brought the idea of a partnership to the park system, but now the park system is soliciting partners, Lein said. The system is requesting qualifications from interested operators by Feb. 28 and in March, state officials will ask for proposals for what operators would do in the parks.
The operators would be responsible for the design, construction, maintenance, operation and insurance of whatever venture is agreed upon. According to Lein, the park system would be sharing its 4 million annual visitors and providing a beautiful setting. No public funding would be involved other than staff time to evaluate the proposals, he said.