Kansas’ state parks see ‘significant’ increase in visits; Clinton, Perry taking some COVID-19 precautions

photo by: Lauren Fox

A few cars sit in the parking lot by the marina at Clinton Lake on Friday, May 8, 2020.

Kansas state parks, including area parks such as Clinton and Perry, saw a significant increase in visits in April, especially with new users, and park leaders say they expect numbers to remain high in the coming months if weather is favorable.

This is good news for Kansas’ state parks, which lost about $1.2 million in user fees as a result of summer flooding last year.

State Parks Director Linda Lanterman said a “significant” increase in visits in the last weeks of April offset the revenue state parks lost in March, when Kansas issued its stay-at-home order.

The number of visits is up about 200,000 from last April, Lanterman said, adding that if the parks are able to remain open and the high traffic continues, “we can make good strides to increasing our revenue we lost.”

Data wasn’t available Friday on exactly how many additional visits Clinton and Perry state parks have seen, but Clinton’s park manager said he’d seen a significant rise in traffic there, and Lanterman said cabins were almost completely booked for this weekend at all the state’s parks, including Clinton and Perry.

Lanterman is encouraged by more than just the financials. She believes being outside more will also improve people’s mental and physical well-being in a challenging time.

“I think during this pandemic, being outside is good for us,” she said. With the miles of trails and various campgrounds at the state parks, there’s plenty of room for social distancing.

“The public understands that they need to social distance to have the benefit of going to a state park,” Lanterman said.

photo by: Lauren Fox

A boat crosses Clinton Lake on Friday, May 8, 2020.

Samantha Jones, the natural resource manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Clinton Lake, said a lot of people at the park are practicing good social distancing, but she has seen some troubling behavior.

One discouraging sign is seeing multiple cars meet up in the park, causing state park employees to assume that the group is likely not a family unit, Jones said. The Corps, in conjunction with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, also closed the road across Clinton Dam, East 900 Road, on April 7 because there were large gatherings there and people were parking on the shoulder of the already narrow road, leading to unsafe road conditions.

Jones still recommends Clinton Lake as a safe spot to practice social distancing and suggests that visitors choose to access the trails and lake from more “out-of-the-way” spots. She does not recommend parking at the Overlook Park or the spillway, as these are two common spots for visitors to access the park.

The Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has been working to keep the grounds as safe as possible. Conner O’Flannagan, park manager at Clinton State Park, said staff has revamped cleaning procedures in cabins and bathrooms, closed designated swimming beaches and is promoting social distancing on social media and with physical signs.

Park officials have also closed off areas that are difficult to clean. O’Flannagan noted that one bathroom at Clinton Lake has been closed off because it is wooden. Lanterman said three cabins at Perry Lake have been closed because they are carpeted.

Also, while Kansas state parks have remained open, they have closed on-site offices to the public until May 18. In order to get a vehicle permit, visitors must either find a self-pay station or call the number posted on the outside of the state park office.

O’Flannagan said he believes one of the reasons Clinton Lake saw increased traffic in April was that schools have been closed. He also noted that campgrounds were 100% booked on weekends in April, which was the not the case last year.

Lanterman said she’s happy families are taking the time to explore state parks with their children and try new things. There has been an increase in the number of new users at the parks, which Lanterman has seen measured by the number of new vehicles entering the state’s system through registering for a park permit.

Lanterman said the increase in traffic “just shows people are ready to get out,” and she said her staff is working to provide a safe place for residents to engage with nature and take a break from all the time indoors.

photo by: Lauren Fox

Clinton Lake is pictured on Friday, May 8, 2020.

photo by: Lauren Fox

The entrance to the marina at Clinton Lake is pictured on Friday, May 8, 2020.


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