There may be some sound reasons for Kansas to take control of park facilities at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs across the state, but there are a number of factors that warrant careful consideration before moving forward on such a plan.
Gov. Sam Brownback reportedly has asked Pentagon officials to end Corps of Engineers’ management of recreational facilities at federal reservoirs and turn those operations over to the state. Currently, the state and federal governments share responsibility for the parks surrounding the lakes. At Clinton Lake, for instance, the state operates Clinton State Park while the Corps operates the rest of the campgrounds and park areas.
State officials argue that the current duplication of services and equipment is an inefficient use of funds. Turning over the parks at Kansas reservoirs to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism would allow the Corps to divest “their recreation efforts in favor of effectively funding the other responsibilities of their mission,” Brownback said in his letter. Those include flood control, navigation and environmental issues.
So far, the Corps hasn’t been eager to make this change. Taxpayers may be attracted by the increased efficiency of having a single entity overseeing recreation at the lake, but there are other factors to consider, including the loss of federal money that currently goes into maintaining and operating campgrounds and other facilities at lakes like Clinton.
A number of campers also report that state recreation facilities at federal lakes aren’t as well-maintained as those operated by the Corps. Considering that the state parks department has seen its budget cut in recent years, it’s hard to see how the state would pick up the additional cost of operating the parks unless it seeks significant increased revenue from higher taxes or user fees.
This is not the first time the idea of turning recreational land at the lakes over to the state has been discussed. Perhaps something has changed to make the idea more attractive now, but state officials should be careful not to reject a system that is working fine and replace it with one that is difficult for the state to fund and maintain.