Full Cheney Reservoir opens its floodgates
Flooding that left widespread damage at several eastern and south-central Kansas state parks is also creating a tough financial situation for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism during its usual bread-and-butter months.
“Overall the park system is losing lots of money this summer because of the impact of the rain and the flooding,” department spokesman Ron Kaufman said.
Because the state park system is funded almost entirely through camping and entrance permit sales and cabin rentals, the department relies heavily on visitor traffic during its busy season, May through August.
Typically those four summer months account for more than half of its annual revenues and draw around 60% of the people who venture out to Kansas’ 28 state parks each year.
But, Kaufman said, when heavy rains like what fell across much of the state this spring leaves campsites, beaches, docks and other amenities damaged or under water, many people either can’t get to their favorite spots or opt to stay away.
“When we can’t sell a (cabin or campsite) reservation, or we have to refund the money” — like what happened when several camp grounds flooded before Memorial Day — “we just don’t get the income. But we still have expenses incurred with our staff.
“And of course, we’re going to have huge expenses with clean up and restoration of some of the parks that were affected” by the floods, Kaufman said.
Fortunately, overall conditions at most state parks have improved at least slightly since Memorial Day thanks to a break from the rain, Kaufman said. The lull in the wet weather has given reservoir managers a chance to release enough water to bring some lakes down to reasonable levels.
And in western Kansas, which only saw enough rain to bring the already low lakes up to “a decent level,” conditions are favorable to visitors, Kaufman said.
Still he expects too see a drop in the usual Independence Day park attendance — although it should be better than Memorial Day, he said — because some areas aren’t yet dried out. That includes some campsites at Cheney State Park, a significant chunk of Fall River State Park and all of Elk City State Park, which remains closed and unreachable by county roads due to flooding.
Asked about the financial toll of the flooding and drop in attendance, Kaufman said it’s unclear right now exactly how much the wildlife, parks and tourism department might be losing. That likely won’t be known until later in the year.
Last year state park permit sales and other revenues totaled $9.2 million. Cabin rentals brought in slightly more than $1.2 million.
“I think our parks right now are just trying to keep their heads above water, so to speak, coping on a day-to-day basis with what they have to deal with,” Kaufman said. He noted that even a boost in Labor Day visitors won’t be enough for the department to bounce back because there are a finite number of cabin rentals, facilities and campsites available.
The total cost needed to repair the state parks also is unknown right now because the department can’t yet assess all of the flooding damage.
“In a lot of the parks, the high water still is hiding what has to be repaired. Some of the repairs we can make ourselves with our own park staff. Other repairs, we’ll have to call in contractors,” Kaufman said. “But we really can’t give an accurate assessment until the water is receded, and we’re able to get in there and take a look at things.”
With washed-out roads and some shower and toilet buildings still completely submerged, “it’s going to be a mess in some locations.”