With declining revenue, public-private partnerships could be the answer for state parks

09/05/2015 08:30 AM

Thousands of Kentuckians will flock to Kentucky’s state parks this Labor Day weeknd, but the park systems greeting them are facing many challenges with shrinking budgets and personnel — which has led to limited hours and upkeep.

Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart says that budget cuts have led to delayed maintenance on many structures such as lodges.

“We have had to trim the personnel by 31 percent,” Stewart said. “In 2008 there were 1,160 state employees in state parks, now there’s 761. Most of our lodge facilities are between 45 and 60 years old. We are a bit behind on the maintenance and needs of our state parks.”

Sen. Chris Girdler, R-Somerset, says with declining revenue, there’s going to have to be some bold ideas within the General Assembly to turn things around.

“Our parks are losing $22 million a year and without question, I think that sends a big sign that we’re going to have to overhaul the system at some point in time in the future,” Girdler said.

Currently, state officials are seeking proposals from the private sector to finance and develop the first privately operated Kentucky state park lodge at General Burnside Island.

Stewart believes that if that effort is successful, public-private partnerships could be a solution to the parks woes.

“General Burnside could be the example for how a public-private partnership could work in terms of a new lodging facility on state park property,” Stewart said. “There is a need and demand for additional lodging. We don’t have the money for it but we think that the private sector ought to be interested in putting a lodge facility there.”

On September 28, the Joint Subcommittee on Tourism Development will meet at Rough River State Park to highlight the importance of the state park system and hear a report from Bob Stewart on the current status of the state park system.

Girdler will co-chair the committee.

About Don Weber

Don Weber joined cn|2 when it launched back in May 2010 and soon became a reporter for Pure Politics. He is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University and has spent many years covering everything from politics to sports. Don says he loves meeting new people everyday as part of his job and also enjoys the fact that no two days are the same when he comes to work. Don Weber can be reached at donald.weber@twcnews.com.

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