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Archive for Sunday, September 3, 2006

Expect busy summer when state cuts park fee

September 3, 2006

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Kevin Lorenz is a salesman by day and sailor anytime he can get on the lake during boating season.

"I like to sail because of the peace and quiet of it. You can sit back and relax and not be bouncing across the lake," Lorenz said.

Fewer boats means calmer water.

"Actually, I don't think the usage is that high during this season. It's not overcrowded by any means on the water. It's really pretty nice actually, especially living 10 minutes away," Lorenz said.

State park reports show visits to Clinton Lake are down over the last two years from 594,065 in 2003 to 368,673 in 2005.

That peace and quiet on Clinton Lake soon may be in for a change, however. State officials expect local visits to increase in 2007 with a 50-percent cut in park admission fees. But bigger crowds could bring problems for some while they bring profits for others.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Mike Hayden, secretary of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, are pushing for increased access to state parks to promote tourism. The push would help the decline in visitation that Clinton has been facing during the past two years.

Hayden said he viewed the discount as a partial solution to ramping up park visits and was confident the number of park users would increase from the 368,000 Clinton State Park visitors and the 1.8 million streaming into the Clinton area each year.


Aaron Sansgaard, 15, jumps into Clinton Lake near the marina after his friend Dustin Illgner, 13, Satruday evening. The Illgner family owns a boat, which they took out for the day at Clinton Lake Saurday, July 15.

Aaron Sansgaard, 15, jumps into Clinton Lake near the marina after his friend Dustin Illgner, 13, Satruday evening. The Illgner family owns a boat, which they took out for the day at Clinton Lake Saurday, July 15.

"I view it as the glass half-full," Hayden said. "Now we need to get adequate long-term funding and get people free access to the parks."

Business opportunities

Another state agency has even bigger plans.

In June, the Kansas Department of Commerce released a report by Basile Baumann Prost & Associates Inc. that compared marketplace demands at eight lakes. It suggested Clinton Lake is prime for a 150-unit hotel and an 18-hole golf course. The report favors Clinton based on demographic appeal in Lawrence. But some people are in strong disfavor.

A meeting was held Aug. 16 at the Lawrence Public Library to inform people about the plan and answer questions.

Bev Worster, who raises sheep on land near Clinton Lake, said she was outraged that the Kansas Water Office participated in the study because they are supposed to protect the public's water.

"I absolutely say no to building," she said. "It violates all my principles about what public land is for."

Hayden said based on demographics, the decision to build is agreeable, but that's not enough.

Video

Mike Hayden, secretary of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, on development at Clinton Lake. Enlarge video

"They simply looked at how many people were located within a one-hour radius and, when you do, Clinton comes to the top. If you were simply looking at the demographics you'd say Clinton makes some sense. What you have to then do is analyze the infrastructure, analyze the amount of land that is available, analyze if you have to take that land away from public use or private use and understand the impacts of that," he said.

One Clinton business is already planning to grow. Lee Kennedy, general manager of the Clinton Marina, said plans are to build more boat slips next fall to accommodate their growing list of people waiting to purchase permanent slips. The marina owns 360 boat slips now, which range from $1,350 to $3,600 per year. Kennedy said there was room in the cove for more slips.

The marina also has helped other businesses. A new restaurant, an extension of 28-year-old Johnny's Tavern in North Lawrence, was added last month, boosting the owner's sales and keeping marina visitors fed. Manager Rick Renfro said, when the previous restaurant owner left, Johnny's thought they would give it a shot this summer and see how business would be. He has been surprised at how many people use the lake and said his restaurant definitely would be staying.

Keeping dollars here

Some boaters like the idea of more services and more visitors to the lake.

Tim Jones of Lawrence has been boating on the lake with his family for at least a decade. He said he wouldn't mind seeing more people at the lake because he knows that would encourage development. He pays $152.15 for a yearly park pass, but said he knows a lot of people who can't afford one and don't want to spend the money to come to Clinton.

"The lake traffic is low right now because they charge too much for the facility," Jones said. "It goes up like $10 every year and at the gate it goes up at least a dollar or two. You'd have a lot more people out here if they lower it down where middle-income people can come out here."

Jones said instead of Clinton Lake, locals are going elsewhere.

"They're going to spend money at Great Wolf Lodge or Worlds of Fun. Or you can drive to St. Louis and go to Six Flags for the price you can stay here for a weekend. Why not keep it here? The state is making no sense at all. But it does keep traffic down on the lake," he said.

Jerry Schecher, Clinton State Park manager, attributes lower visitation numbers to increased gasoline prices, which deter out-of-state traffic. On the other hand, Schecher said Kansans were coming to the campgrounds more frequently and staying longer than in years past.

Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Clinton Lake makes a strong positive impact on the quality of life in the community.

"This lake and all of its amenities is right at our back door," she said. "It is very close to people's lives and where they live and work. Recreationally, I think it brings folks in from nearby and further out. That brings more economic impact to the community in terms of shopping and grocery stores and other entertainment amenities we provide."

Billings said events such as the Wakarusa Festival have an even bigger impact and without the venue the lake provides they wouldn't be possible.

Lacking infrastructure

But bigger crowds that bring profits for some can cause problems for others.

According to Hayden, the park's infrastructure would not be able to accommodate such high traffic because an adequate investment hasn't been made. He said Clinton was feeling the pressure of urban sprawl, which is coming right to its doorstep. He cites the Wakarusa Festival as an example of great numbers putting pressure on an ill-equipped park and highway structure.

"We are almost maxed out," he said. "The state park itself has a relatively small number of acres in relation to the demand people are placing on it. The park needs to be larger to meet that demand."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the 23,000 acres of land around the lake, has been warned by Congress to anticipate a flat budget for the next five to six years. Federal Park Manager David Rhoades said a flat budget would, in effect, decrease their funds.

The Corps is considering ways to compensate.

"We will be tightening our belts," Rhoades said. "We don't know what we are going to do. We could increase our volunteers. We may look at our personnel and may not hire anyone new. It could get down to our parks we have. We will consider if any are less efficient and perhaps consider park closure or opening a park earlier in the spring."

More people also bring more environmental problems. Environmentalists concerned with water quality and wildlife prefer to see a balance between the park users and nature.

Boats have potential problems as well. The Environmental Protection Agency now requires four-stroke motorboats because they burn oil and gas cleaner than older two-stroke motors.

Old and new boats continue to dock at the marina and there is no sign of it stopping.

Marina visitors Matt Terstreip of Overland Park and his wife are enjoying the quiet this summer but worry about the future.

They have been boating at Clinton Lake once a week for 12 years.

"Right now it's almost perfect because there are some sail boats out there and some motor boats. It keeps it so it's not so crowded," Terstreip said. "We would like to keep it as private as possible. We are as selfish as the next guy."

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