STATE PARK FUNDING SOLUTIONS SOUGHT
Kansas state parks face a significant challenge: Funding. The first state park – Kanopolis – was authorized by the Kansas Legislature in 1955. Since that time, 23 more state parks have been created across the state.
Historically, park user fees have been supplemented by the State General Fund (taxpayer dollars). From 1958 through 1963, the parks system was funded entirely from the State General Fund. Park entrance fees were implemented in 1964, and camping fees in 1982.
Since 1995, State General Fund (SGF) support for parks has been reduced from 60 percent of the annual parks operating budget to 17 percent. As SGF support has fallen, user fees have increased to bear more of the funding needs of parks. In the past five years, park entrance fees have increased twice and camping fees four times.
State park operations are coordinated by the Parks Division of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Fiscal Year 2005 parks division operating budgets were funded primarily by park user fees (65 percent), State General Fund appropriations (17 percent), and federal grants (9 percent). The balance of the division’s 2005 expenditures were funded from a variety of lesser funding sources. State and federal statutes prohibit the use of revenues generated by sale of hunting and fishing licenses and permits to fund state park operations.
A minimum annual operating budget of $10 million is required to adequately maintain state parks. The Fiscal Year 2005 budget to operate state parks was $7.2 million. The Parks Division of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks comprises 107 full-time employees. Kansas ranks next to last among all states in spending on its parks but fifth among all states in overnight camping stays, and the long-term deferral of maintenance and capital improvement presents a growing challenge to provide adequate facilities and services.
How do we ensure that adequate resources are available to operate state parks that continue to serve the state and its citizens? Surveys indicate strong public sentiment in favor of a state-supported parks system. However, alternatives for an acceptable mechanism to generate funds are still being explored. One proposal recently discussed is to add a $5 outdoor recreation fee to the annual registration fee paid for personal and recreational vehicles. Patterned after a system implemented in Montana, that proposal would allow anyone with a valid Kansas license plate on their vehicles to enter any state park, any time of the year without having to purchase the currently-required daily or annual vehicle permit. The proposal would have distributed 80 percent of the estimated $11 million raised annually to state parks, with the 20 percent balance disbursed to communities across Kansas for development of local parks, trails, and outdoor recreation facilities.
In recent years, other funding strategies have been discussed by legislators, community leaders, outdoor recreation professionals, and other Kansas citizens. The future of adequate, stable funding for the state parks system will continue to be a topic of discussion, and your participation in the search for a solution is important. We’d like to hear your comments and ideas.