Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

State Parks: ‘Double Whammy’

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

State Parks: ‘Double Whammy’

Article excerpt

Rain and flooding “seriously affected” more than half of Kansas’ 28 state parks, and some parks on the state’s eastern half remain closed or partially closed.

It’s premature, said Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Brad Loveless, to quantify the financial hit to the parks until the water recedes and campsite cancellation refunds become clearer. In a month or two, he said, they will have a better handle on lost revenue and the cost of repairs and renovation.

Already, the KDWPT's Park Fee Fund is down for April and May by about $100,000, reflecting a loss in entrance fees and campsite fees, and income from cabin rentals is down by $30,000 for those two months compared to a year ago.

Those figures don’t include all the refunds the department has been processing, “which is significant in June,” according

to Ron Kaufman, director of information for the agency.

The department also will lose revenues from marina concessions and from the Country Stampede’s move from Tuttle Creek State Park to Topeka’s Heartland Motorsports Park.

Cheney State Park manager Mike Satterlee has tracked the revenue drop there, and he said Tuesday that Cheney is about $50,000 short from a year ago. “Substantial,” he said.

The KDWPT has not asked the state for special assistance. Parks are managing cleanup with staff and regular seasonal workers.

“We will need state assistance for repairing damages and for cash flow if revenues drop significantly,” Kaufman said in a written response to The News.

Loveless is hopeful they’ll receive aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but that’s a question and there are delays, he said. Parks are documenting the impact, but FEMA aid is “a big unknown,” Loveless said.

Two hits

“Double whammy” is a frequently used phrase by Kaufman and by state park managers.

Parks are losing potential revenues by the day, while damages to be repaired become more apparent.

The KDWPT relies chiefly on entrance permits, campsite and cabin rental fees and marina concessions to fund state parks. Parks also benefit from Kansas Lottery-generated dollars and can obtain federal grants for projects, but they don’t receive money from the state general fund. Also, the sale of hunting, fishing and fur harvesting licenses and permits cannot be spent for state park operations or maintenance and repairs, Kaufman said.

Last year’s estimate for state park visitation reached nearly 6.9 million people. The Park Fee Fund and Cabin Fund, combined, generated more than $10.5 million for the state fiscal year.

A number of state parks canceled campsite reservations for Memorial Day weekend due to high water. That is one of the top three periods for most parks. The Fourth of July is another peak time, and some parks will have certain campsites unavailable then, too.

Besides the loss of revenue, parks face the expense of repairs.

“The water is so deep, we don’t know what we’re going to be dealing with,” said Wichita-based regional supervisor Alan Stark.

Of the parks Kaufman said “have been seriously affected by flooding and heavy rains,” those that remained closed as of Thursday were Kanopolis State Park, near the state’s center, and Elk City State Park, in the southeast.

Parks that were open but with some facilities closed as of Thursday were: Cheney, Cross Timbers, Fall River, Clinton, Pomona, Eisenhower, Tuttle Creek, Milford, Wilson, Hillsdale, Lovewell, Perry, Glen Elder, Webster and El Dorado — which boasts the highest visitation annually of all state parks, exceeding an estimated 1 million people last year.

Updates on the status of parks can be found on the department’s website at http://www.ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks/State-Park-Alerts/.

Records set

Water levels set records this spring in some but not all of the state parks experiencing flooding.

Cheney, El Dorado, Cross Timbers, Elk City and Fall River all registered new highs for example, Stark said, but Milford, Tuttle Creek and Wilson did not exceed 1993 flood levels. …

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