Topeka Despite tight budget times, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks is trying to develop more parks, access for canoeists and other opportunities to get Kansans outdoors.
"We're finding a way to get the job done," said Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden, an outdoors enthusiast and former Kansas governor.
In its budget request for capital improvements in the next fiscal year, the agency is seeking $100,000 in state money for planning a new state park in Topeka that would include hiking trails and boat access to the Kansas River.
The 80-acre property is part of the former Menninger Clinic, which shut down and moved its remaining operations to Houston.
State and Topeka officials have been in negotiations with the Menninger Foundation, which wants to donate the land, a scenic area of rolling hills.
Under the proposal, Hayden said the park would have a picnic area, bathrooms and boat ramp. Overnight camping would be prohibited because of the expected development of retail businesses on other parts of the Menninger property.
The park also would tie in with nearby trails around Cedar Crest mansion, which is the governor's residence, and the Kansas History Center.
"It's a unique opportunity, really. It looks more and more possible all the time," said Hayden, a Lawrence resident.
The proposal comes at a time of increasing pressure to provide more access to the outdoors. With 95 percent of Kansas land in private hands, officials are increasingly looking toward donors to provide public spaces.
In a recent issue of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks magazine, Hayden wrote: "Historically, the department has not pursued property donations to increase public access to the wild places of Kansas. With increasing pressure on the small amount of public land available, though, it is time for a change."
Hayden said donating land was a way for donors to preserve the state's outdoor heritage.
Laura Calwell, a member of the Friends of the Kaw, said she supported Hayden's efforts.
"The goal of the Friends of the Kaw is to get access every 10 miles on the Kansas River, so our citizens can enjoy it as a beautiful recreational treasure," she said.
Hayden said his agency also was working to preserve dedicated funding sources, such as federal and state fees, to pay for parks projects. In fact, of the agency's $6.7 million capital-improvement budget, the only state funds requested are the $100,000 for planning the park in Topeka.
Other projects on the agency's list of capital improvements include:
- Building a new campground at Tuttle Creek State Park because repairs to the dam at the Tuttle Creek Reservoir will reduce the number of campsites.
- Constructing a visitor center at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area in Barton County.
- Developing the Circle K Ranch in Edwards County as a recreation area.
- Completing the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail in eastern Kansas.