May 23, 2012

Kansas state parks ready for big Memorial Day weekend

Linda Lanterman likes the odds for a great Memorial Day weekend at area state parks.

Linda Lanterman likes the odds for a great Memorial Day weekend at area state parks.

“So far we don’t have blue-green algae and the weather looks great,” said Lanterman, Kansas state parks acting director. “That’s great, because we have to have a good Memorial weekend. We just have to.”

Last summer, state parks budgets took a huge hit when the toxic algae and extreme heat led to dismal visitation rates much of the summer.

Even with a recent one-time $800,000 supplement from the state, Lanterman said money is extremely tight.

“We’d asked for $1.2 million and got $800,000, and we’re happy for that, but that just paid back what we’d borrowed,” she said. “It allowed us to keep people on. Now, how we operate and the weather need to work together to bring people in. We have to have a good Memorial Day weekend to end the fiscal year with.” The state’s new budget year begins July 1.

This spring’s mild weather has given state park staffs plenty of time to prepare for the first big holiday weekend of the summer.

“Park’s ready. We’re ready,” said Ryan Stucky, Cheney State Park manager. “We’ve had six mowers going every day since about the first of April.”

A lack of debris from heavy storms or high water also has allowed state park staffs, which were reduced because of budget cuts, to make the best use of their time.

Seth Turner, El Dorado State Park manager, expects all major services such as showers, boat docks and swimming areas to be operational, but said a few corners had to be cut to save money and time.

“Maybe we used to mow 15 feet back and now it may be just 5 feet along the roadsides,” Turner said. “Some of our bigger fields may have been let grow up a little more than usual.”

Diane Hight, Elk City State Park administrative assistant, described the park as in “pristine condition.”

The Elk City Reservoir was about 16 feet high several weeks ago, she said, but now is at about normal water levels, and the water is prime for fishing, swimming and skiing.

Such isn’t the case at Marion Reservoir, said Torey Hett, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office administrator.

“We’ve got blue-green algae, and right now it’s at a warning level,” Hett said. “We’re discouraging any sort of contact with the water, so our swim beaches are closed, but the boat ramps are open. I’ve had some good fishing reports.”

Despite the poor water conditions, Hett predicted the lake’s Corps of Engineers campgrounds will be full.

El Dorado Reservoir has never experienced serious blue-green algae problems, possibly because it drains so much natural prairie.

Cheney had several algae warnings last summer but has tested OK so far this spring. Recent high winds possibly kept the algae, which benefits from high nutrient levels in the water, from forming in high concentrations.

Park managers at El Dorado and Cheney say that reserved campsites with utilities are already full. Other campsites are filling quickly. Turner said many unreserved campsites filled last weekend so avid campers could have good spots for the three-day holiday weekend.

Even if all the campsites are filled, Lanterman and the managers are hoping others come spend the day at the local parks. Permits to enter a state park for a day sell for $4.20 per vehicle.

“We still need that day-use traffic, we rely heavily on it,” Lanterman said. “That’s why we try to have a lot to offer. We really want people to come out and fish all day, or maybe have a nice picnic or just use our boat ramps. Last year was just a tough year, so we need more people this year.”

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