Legislative Delays Strain Kansas State Park Funding
Visitors to Kansas’ parks will find the parks open but some of the grass may need mowing.
The Kansas Legislature has not passed the supplemental budget bill and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) is cutting back on some maintenance work to keep the parks open statewide, the Pratt Tribune reported.
Unseasonably warm temperatures allowed parks to open early this year ahead of the usual April 15 opening date, said Linda Lanterman, KDWPT acting director of Kansas State Parks.
Most of the park revenue is generated from Memorial Day to Labor Day and they don’t generate much income in March and April.
The department is borrowing money from the park road improvement fund to pay employees until the supplemental funding is improved, said Ron Kaufman, KDWPT director of information services.
The department is also holding off on seasonal hires until the supplemental budget is approved as well as some purchases, Lanterman said.
Once the budget is passed, the funds borrowed from road improvement will be returned.
The supplemental budget bill includes $800,000 earmarked for KDWPT that is less than the original $1.2 million requested in Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget.
With the $800,000 plus the park fees and funds from the state general fund, KDWPT should meet the expenses for the park system this year, Kaufman said.
“We hope the legislature will act on it and give us what we need,” Kaufman said.
Although the Legislature is not expected to pass the supplemental budget until late in the session, the parks will continue to remain open with some reduction in maintenance like mowing grass.
Tight finances are not new at KDWPT. The department has always run a conservative ship and will continue to do so.
“We’ve done more with less for a long time,” Lanterman said.
The request for supplemental funding was made to make up for a shortfall in funds in the 2011 season that was plagued with algae bloom in some parks and extended periods of excessive heat that kept patrons away from the parks.
The heat had a big impact on the park attendance during the high traffic holidays on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day that are traditionally the heaviest visitor days for the parks, Kaufman said.
Flooding was also an issue at some parks when the Army Corps of Engineers held floodwaters from the upper Mississippi in reservoirs to prevent flooding down stream. This water ended up flooding some of the campgrounds.
The floodwaters were a result of heavy snow melt in states to the north.
Right now the prospects for the 2012 park season look good. If they can avoid another algae bloom and not have the extended days with temperatures over 100 degrees, the summer could be good.
An unusual benefit for the park is high gas prices. With gas approaching $4 a gallon many families will choose to stay closer to home and that means more patrons to the state parks, Lanterman said.