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Iowa Looks to Volunteers to Staff Some State Parks

December 29, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Iowa DNR logoThe state of Iowa is moving to close selected trails, parks and beaches and might close entire parks if budget cuts grow, the Department of Natural Resources’ director said.

The department has lost 25% of its general-fund cash in the past year because of weak state revenues, Richard Leopold said. Last summer, federally paid help bolstered his crews, but that money is gone, too, according to the Des Moines Register.

Next summer, some areas that don’t generate cash will be roped off, Leopold said. Campgrounds and other spots that do bring in cash should be open, though maintenance may suffer a bit.

As it stands today, all parks will be open next summer, with selected parts of them closed.

“We’re not closing anything yet,” Leopold said. “We will offer fewer services everywhere. If we get further cuts, we’ll probably close whole parks.”

Any closures would most likely affect lesser-used parks, he said.

“It’s kind of ironic because we are at record attendance but at historic lows with staffing,” Leopold said.

Iowa’s 85 state parks draw a combined 14 million visits a year. The DNR usually has 300 summer workers on board to help with the vacation season.

“Now, we have 40 budgeted for next summer, and we’ll be lucky to hold on to those,” Leopold said.

That means some beaches, playgrounds and picnic areas will simply be off-limits because the state won’t be able to maintain them. The one wild card: volunteers. If a park’s “friends group” can pick up the slack, its areas might stay open.

Department spokesman Kevin Baskins said several initiatives might ease the pain. The DNR has asked for $40 million in stimulus money for parks projects but has not received word on the application. That money would pay for constructing beach buildings, playgrounds and cabins, for example. There is also talk of coming up with money for volunteer coordinators at the DNR.

In the long term, there may be more cash. A private foundation is looking to raise cash for parks. Also, voters will decide in November whether to back a constitutional amendment that would clear the way for devoting $150 million a year to natural resources if lawmakers approve a sales tax increase.

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