Archive for Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sebelius supports free state parks

In budget amendment, governor suggests lottery funds could fill gap

April 19, 2006


If the state stops charging admission to Clinton State Park, as the governor proposed Tuesday, some park volunteers think trouble would walk right in.

"You'd see partiers, drinkers," said David Frye, who works at the admission booth at Clinton. "I'm totally opposed to it."

Admission to the state's 24 parks would be free for Kansas residents starting Jan. 1 under a proposal Gov. Kathleen Sebelius included Tuesday in budget amendments offered to legislators.

Her proposal would set aside $4 million in lottery revenues for the parks system and provide $1.25 million in general tax revenues. The money would more than offset the loss of fees Kansans now pay, giving the Department of Wildlife and Parks new dollars to maintain parks and their roads, cabins, restrooms and bathhouses.

Frye said he sees potential park users come to the area to party or create some other disturbance, but they often leave when faced with a fee.

But Keith Sexon, assistant secretary of operations at the state parks department, said parks at Clinton and Perry lakes and elsewhere across the state need a steady income source if they are to be properly maintained.

Fees haven't always provided for that, he said.

Terry Pickens wrestles with his tent as Darci Rodecap, 9, takes a seat. Pickens was setting up his camp for Memorial Day last year at Clinton Lake State Park. He and other Kansans would be able to use state parks for free under a plan endorsed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Terry Pickens wrestles with his tent as Darci Rodecap, 9, takes a seat. Pickens was setting up his camp for Memorial Day last year at Clinton Lake State Park. He and other Kansans would be able to use state parks for free under a plan endorsed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

"We have to continue to think about a long-range, dedicated funding source," Sexon said.

The department has complained for years the state isn't providing enough tax dollars to maintain parks, forcing increases in entrance fees.

This year, the cost of a per-day vehicle permit for most visitors rose to $7 from $6, while the price for an annual permit rose to $46.65, up $10 from last year.

"We do hear that the fees are so high that they begin to impact on families, they begin to impact on low- and moderate-income Kansans and it keeps people away from the parks," said Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden.

Last month, senators approved a bill setting aside the lottery dollars for parks. The measure is before the House Appropriations Committee, and Sebelius endorsed it Tuesday.

But without fees acting as a gatekeeper at park entrances, Sexon admitted that parks in Lawrence and elsewhere would be faced with potential security issues.

"There is some concern that there would have to be more enforcement," Sexon said.

Clinton Park had about 473,000 visitors in 2005, while Perry had close to 159,000, according to the department's annual report. Without fees, the number of visitors is likely to increase.

House committee Chairman Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said he and other lawmakers were skeptical of the parks proposal.

Neufeld isn't sure the state will have enough lottery revenues to set aside an additional $4 million, noting that other lottery dollars already are committed, mostly to economic development programs.

And, he said, some legislators worry that Sebelius and Hayden are using the park system to preserve wildlife habitat, rather than lure visitors and promote economic development.

"That's really the debate that we're not having that we should be having," Neufeld said.

Hayden said his goal is to increase park use, especially by Kansans.

"The parks are beginning to deteriorate," he said. "The more they're in disrepair, the less people can enjoy the parks."

Though the park system's budget has increased by nearly 56 percent in the past decade, to $8.8 million, it's not risen enough to keep pace with operating costs, Hayden and other officials contend.

Also, the system is relying far more heavily on fees. In fiscal 1996, the state collected $2.4 million in fees for its parks; by fiscal 2005, that figure had tripled, to $7.3 million. A decade ago, general tax dollars accounted for more than half of the parks system's funding, and in 2005, the figure was less than 17 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


trinity 12 years, 1 month ago

this is a great idea! with gas prices the way they're going, good Lord-it'd sure be nice for families to have a place to go&enjoy!

this frye person-my gawd! i really can't see the state parks filling up with miscreants&unruly drunks&druggies if the state does this. encourage attendance from good people&families who CARE about keeping the place clean&nice, then they'll outnumber and therefore "take over" from the "bad" people. and just what makes him think there aren't PLENTY of goofballs on any given campground on any given day, ANYWAY, already that DO pay the fee???


countrygirl 12 years, 1 month ago

How about making the entrance free, but you still have to stop and the booth and register if you are going to stay overnight? They would still give you a sticker or something to put in your car to show that you have registered. Then people who are not registered can be asked to either do so or leave by a certain time. I think people might be a little less inclined to party loudlyand cause problems if they know that their car tags and names are on file. My family usually camps on the corp side because the facilities are nicer. And the only place we've had any problems with noise has been up at Perry and they were older people also with kids. So fee or no fee, you are still going to get some folks who think it's OK to be loud and obnoxious.

Jayhawk226 12 years, 1 month ago

I'm still waiting for you to cover my out-of-state tuition bill to KU for 8 years macon47.

Let me know when you and the majority of Kansas residents are ready to pay up. My loan variable interest rates are starting to become a burden

Rationalanimal 12 years, 1 month ago

Kudos to Sebelius. Why make those who paid for the park in the first place pay to use it? The only argument against her proposal (parties will infiltrate the parks) is only supportable if we assume the parks staff aren't doing their job. Gov. Sebelius is one rational animal, at least for the day.

towniejj 12 years, 1 month ago

ljreader- You should be more specific about your allegations and calls for litigation. The tuition law lets kids who graduated from KANSAS high schools who have attended Kansas schools for THREE years or more get in-state tuition! This system is designed to promote growth in the long-run and to avoid punishing children for the sins of their parents. As a Kansan I am excited that this program will help kids become more productive, educated members of society.

dirkleisure 12 years, 1 month ago

The lede of this story says, "some park volunteers."

I see comments from ONE park volunteer.

Poor writing, poor editing, or both? When I was in grade school, I learned that "some" meant more than one.

You can always find ONE person to say something criticizing a decision. It isn't a story unless you find SOME. In other words, the non-Associated Press portions of this piece aren't a story.

Either the editors or this reporter could use some more time in a high school journalism class.

Godot 12 years, 1 month ago

How will people prove they are residents of the state? Drivers license? Utility bill?

It will probably take more ID to enter the park for free than it does to vote.

lawrencian 12 years, 1 month ago

Personally, I think that a combination of the two would be best. Lower the fees to a nominal $2 or so, AND increase funding from other sources, so that anyone can reasonably afford the daily fee, but still regulate the area.

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