Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet
Kentucky Launches Plan to Revolutionize State Parks System
FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet (TAH) today launched a plan designed to transform and modernize the Kentucky State Parks system and bring long-needed financial stability to the parks. The plan is based on a comprehensive study of the park system conducted by PROS Consulting.
“The Kentucky State Parks are among the state’s greatest assets – they are great tourism attractions and important economic catalysts for every region of the state,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “It’s important that we protect and preserve these parks because they contribute greatly to adventure tourism and provide our citizens opportunities for healthy living.”
“This plan, based on the most comprehensive study ever conducted of the park system, not only is the first step toward getting the system’s financial house in order, but also provides a road map to bring our parks into the 21st Century,” Tourism, Arts and Heritage Secretary Marcheta Sparrow said.
Sparrow also noted that there are no plans to close Kentucky parks.
The report recommends a heightened emphasis on adventure tourism – a priority of the Beshear administration – including adventure sport festivals; competitive adventure races in trail running, mountain biking, canoeing or kayaking; additional wildlife viewing; wellness and outdoor events for seniors; and expanded outdoor and wildlife programs for people with disabilities.
“We believe state park guests will have a better experience when they visit our parks as a result of this study,” said Parks Commissioner Gerry van der Meer. “This will help us adhere to our core mission – stimulating economic development in rural areas, providing quality recreational programming for our guests and preserving significant natural, historical and cultural resources in Kentucky.”
The consultants examined park facilities, services, finances, workforce, amenities and management structure. The report addresses financial performance issues in key areas such as golf, food services and resort park operations. In addition, it recommends programming to capitalize on the wide range of natural attractions for adventure tourism and more focus on the health benefits of outdoor recreation. Recommendations also include increased marketing resources, prioritizing capital needs, better preventive maintenance and revising park programs to encourage higher visitation.
The Kentucky State Parks system has 51 parks that include resorts, recreation parks and historic sites and is one of the leading park systems in the nation. Kentucky parks generated $53 million in revenues, the third highest amount among all state park systems behind California and New York in 2008-2009. That revenue was about 64 percent of the total operating expenses – the highest in the nation for state park systems similar to or larger in size to Kentucky, according to the National Association of State Park Directors. However, increased costs and competition have made it more challenging to continue operating the current system of parks, which celebrated its 85th anniversary in 2009. Some states are closing parks due to poor economic conditions.
Sparrow and van der Meer said parks employees have been invited to help provide input on some of the improvements. Several changes in food services and golf have already been made and are saving money. Van der Meer said some of the recommendations will require more study. The suggested changes being carried out include:
- Issuing requests for proposals to see if private companies are interested in operating the system’s golf courses and selected restaurants. For parks located in areas that allow alcohol sales, the requests will ask vendors to address the possibility of alcohol sales at those locations.
- Days of operation at resort parks will be reduced during winter months. The 17 resort parks will be open Wednesday through Sunday during the winter. Recreational and historic parks will also have reduced winter hours as they have in the past.
- The Department of Parks will begin using temp agencies for hiring part time seasonal employees.
- All department employees currently working 40 hours a week will begin working 37.5 hours per week by July 15, 2010, the same as central office staff and most state employees.
- Improvements in park programming that highlight the health benefits of outdoor recreation, adventure tourism and nature education.
These steps can lead to savings of an estimated $6 million a year, according to the report.
Note: An online version of the complete report is available at www.parks.ky.gov. Click on the “media” tab to find the report.