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State parks get boost from Fourth of July traffic

Published on -7/12/2014, 7:04 PM

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By Michael Pearce
The Wichita Eagle
No fatalities in Kansas state parks, or the reservoirs they serve, over the Fourth of July holiday weekend was the best news Linda Lanterman could hear. Second was that attendance and revenue were high.
"We did close to $300,000, and that doesn't take into account reservations that were made prior to the holiday," said Lanterman, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism state park director. "It certainly wasn't a record breaker but we couldn't have been more pleased."
She estimated about 275,000 people visited state parks over the first week of July. The good revenue fits in with a four-year trend of increased user fee income from the parks.
Lanterman said in fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, state parks earned right at $7 million, a record. She said that's more than $900,000 better the fiscal year 2013 and around $1.7 million better than in 2011.
Two local state parks added strongly to the revenue and high visitation figures over the holiday weekend. Lanterman said about 57,000 people visited El Dorado State Park while about 30,000 visited Cheney State Park. A blue-green algae outbreak at Milford State Park, generally one of Kansas' busiest, certainly kept visitation numbers low at the reservoir near Junction City.
Lanterman said campsites with utilities averaged better than 90 percent full across the state, while primitive campsites were around half filled.
"We just don't see that much usage of our primitive sites anymore," she said. Lanterman couldn't explain the decline.
Lanterman credited several new programs and regulation changes with helping to create more revenue for the parks.
"We know the (online) reservation system is a big help, as is doing away with the discount for the second vehicle permit," she said. "We've also implanted the new park passport system where people can buy permits at the tag office. I think all of those things have worked together to help us."
After decades of getting variable amounts of state general fund, the state parks were weaned from that support several years ago. Linda Craghead, Wildlife and Parks assistant secretary, said this year parks should get around $1.1 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation for road maintenance. The parks also are expected to receive around $2.2 million in economic development incentive funds from Kansas lottery earnings.
"We're working hard to make sure our revenues increase," Lanterman said. "If we don't stay flat or increase revenue every year, we're in trouble. We're like your household finances in that we have to make it before we can spend it. We have to constantly watch our expenditures."
That means state park visitors may not see every square yard mowed, pot hole filled or tree trimmed. Most state parks are running on some of their lowest numbers of staff members.
"We're still holding some positions open, that's where you can really save some money," Lanterman said. "It just makes sense if you're trying to be fiscally responsible."
(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)
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