FRANKFORT – The additional $18 million state legislators budgeted in April for Kentucky State Parks will pay to repair leaky roofs and faulty wiring – blamed for recent fires at two different lodges – but it isn’t enough to save the conference center at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. That building will be bulldozed after being condemned.
“Over the years the parks have become pretty run down,” Kentucky Department of Parks Commissioner Donnie Holland said at yesterday’s Interim Joint Committee on State Government. “This $18 million … is going to be a great help in helping refurbish a lot of the key issues in the parks. As a matter of fact, we have already seen some visitation increase due to just the publicity.”
The department has launched a marketing campaigned named “Refreshing the Nation’s Finest” to promote planned or completed improvements, Holland said. Those improvements include replacing concrete that was falling off the side of a lodge on park goers, repairing safety railings at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and painting lodges.
Insurance will pay for the damage caused by the two fires. A leaky roof caused an electrical fire at Greenbo Lake State Report Park lodge. Old and faulty wiring was blamed for the blaze at the Jenny Wiley State Resort Park lodge.
Holland, who was recently appointed to run the department, said he wants to “leverage” the positive news generated by the extra money to bring a “favorable image” back to the state parks.
Hollard said the increase in attendance could help pay for other repairs that have been put off to save money, referred to as deferred maintenance. The $18 million only covered 7.5 percent of the $240 million in deferred maintenance at state parks. Holland said the high cost of deferred maintenance wasn’t unique to Kentucky. The National Park Service has $11.5 billion in deferred maintenance, he said.
“We are all kind of in the same boat, their boat is just bigger,” he said in reference to the national parks. “I guess 30, 40, 50 years ago it was a lot of fun to build all these buildings. The time comes when you have to maintain them. That is kind of where we are all at across the country.”
Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, asked if the passage of House Bill 309, legalizing an alternative financing method called public-private partnerships (P3s), could provide the money to preserve the park system.
Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Legislative Liaison Phillip Brown testified that he was “very hopeful” P3s will be another tool to finance the repairs. He said he couldn’t be specific about any P3s the parks department might consider because the governmental regulations for P3s were still being written.
Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, asked if there was any discussion, conversation or plan to shutter, close or sell any of the state parks. Holland said the state park system has never been profitable but it does have an economic impact of $889 million per year with $92 million going straight into the state treasury.
“That is significantly more than our losses, so the parks are worth having,” he said. “We have not targeted any parks – at this point.”
Holland said officials need time to evaluate the newly launched marketing campaign and wait for the P3s regulations to be finalized before considering anything as “severe” as eliminating a park.
Combs and Overly, who both sponsored HB 309, each said they hope P3s will help secure the future of the park system.
Committee Co-chair Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, complimented Holland on managing the park system on a tight budget.
“I think you got the eye on the ball,” Yonts said. “I think you are counting pennies and you are going to make them stretch as far as they can.”
Pinching pennies will not replace the condemned conference center. Holland said he just doesn’t have the $6 million it would cost to rebuild it.