Whitewater rafting, zip lines and other high-adrenaline outdoor sports at Clinton Lake State Park are the state’s latest idea to bring tourists to the area.
Officials with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism this week are hosting leaders of the North Carolina-based U.S. National Whitewater Center. Members of the whitewater business have toured sites at Clinton Lake State Park west of Lawrence and have been meeting with interested stakeholders about a possible development.
“Kansas always has been a great state for outdoor recreation, but it has been traditional outdoor activities like hunting and fishing,” said Robin Jennison, the state’s secretary of wildlife, parks and tourism.
Jennison said the state needs to become more aggressive in offering nontraditional outdoor activities to keep up with the changing tastes of tourists. Jennison said a Clinton Lake development would feature a manmade whitewater rafting course, in addition to zip lines, hiking trails and canoeing and kayaking on Clinton Lake. He estimated the entire project could cost upwards of $50 million to develop.
“It probably would be the second biggest thing the state has done for tourism, next to the NASCAR track,” Jennison said. “It really would be an outdoor lifestyle center.”
The idea of a Clinton Lake project, however, is still in its early stages. Linda Craghead, the department’s assistant secretary, said a specific site within the state park hasn’t yet been identified. The state also would have to put out a request for proposals to give all interested parties a chance to participate in the project.
But the department invited members of the not-for-profit U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., to visit the area and help the state determine the feasibility of a Kansas project. Craghead said it was too early to estimate a timetable for the project to move forward.
Last year, state officials sought proposals from private developers to build a conference center and resort hotel at Clinton Lake State Park. But only one developer submitted a proposal, and the state ultimately decided not to move forward.
Jennison said some potential developers told him a destination attraction, such as a whitewater park, might help improve the prospects of a resort development at the lake.
“We think Lawrence would be ideally suited for something like this,” Jennison said. “Given all the bike trails that already exist, and other outdoor activity, we think the demographics are there.”
The state has met with city officials and also area legislators about the project. Jennison said it is too early to determine whether the city and county commissions would be asked to provide any financial incentives or infrastructure support for the project.
“Right now, we just want to find out if people are receptive to the idea,” Jennison said. “Sometimes when you are dealing with tourism, there are people who don’t want extra people in their area. And this would bring more people to the area.”