Touring Little Jerusalem
The cost of a “backcountry access” permit at Kansas’ newest state park might be back up for discussion after the landowners said they haven’t approved the fee and want to keep it affordable.
The permit, which was passed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism on Thursday, would restrict access to areas of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, allowing only those willing and able to pay $50 to walk through the fragile rock formations. Officials said the permit price would help protect the rocks from deterioration from “unfettered access.”
The land is owned by The Nature Conservancy, which bought the land in 2016 and agreed to make Little Jerusalem a part of the state park system, while retaining ownership of the land. Kansas’ parks department would manage the park and help protect the unique attraction expected to open to the public in 2019.
“The Nature Conservancy is committed to keeping access to Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park affordable,” The Nature Conservancy in Kansas posted and pinned to the top of its Facebook page on Friday night after The Eagle’s story on the permit prices was published on Kansas.com.
“We have not yet agreed to special access permits or associated fees and plan to continue to work with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to ensure all fees are reasonable,” the post says.
An official with the state’s Parks Division said she plans to meet with leaders from The Nature Conservancy in the next week to discuss the permit fees.
The Nature Conservancy, a Virginia-based nonprofit charity focused on conservation, bought a 330-acre tract of land that includes Little Jerusalem in 2016 from the McGuire family after at least five generations of keeping the hidden gem in the family.
At the time of the sale, owner Jim McGuire told The Eagle part of the reason he was selling the property was to make it open to the public — including access to the area around the rocks that would require the permit.
“It’s such a unique piece of property, we wanted it open to the public and not turn (it) into a four-wheel drive park or a hunting resort someday,” McGuire said in 2016. “I wanted it so people could walk down in those rocks and enjoy someplace special.”
Little Jerusalem is more than four-hour drive west of Wichita, between Scott City and Oakley. Trails around the park would be open to the public without the permit and children 16 and under would get the access permit for free under the regulation that passed Thursday.
Linda Lanterman, director of the Parks Division of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism said if the permit price is to be changed, it will have to go back through the commission, which voted unanimously to approve it on Thursday.
The committee that considered the permit — called a “backcountry access pass” — told the commission before the vote that it had concerns that it was too expensive, but it didn’t make any suggestions for a different price, Lanterman said in a phone interview on Saturday.
She also said no one from the public voiced any concerns about permit price when it came up at multiple commissioner meetings in the past.
“The public has an avenue to voice their concern at the commission meeting. We presented it three of four times and didn’t have anyone from the public say that they had a problem with it,” Lanterman said.
“It never came back with the change (from the committee),” Lanterman said. “We didn’t hear any controversy at the commission,” Lanterman said.
She said Little Jerusalem is new territory for the state’s parks system. Because the park’s chalky rocks are so fragile, it has to be carefully managed to make sure it doesn’t get destroyed.
“We’ve never had such a fragile piece of land under our stewardship, and we want to do it right,” Lanterman said.