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Cash-strapped state park system could mean some closures

by Bill Knowles

WALSENBURG— Deep budget cuts to the state parks system has prompted a five-year plan calling for the closure of several Colorado state parks to save money.  The plan would save around $200,000 a year by closing at least four parks.

    However Huerfano County’s Lathrop State Park has dodged that bullet, and has instead posted record setting revenue for the 2010-2011 season, according to park manager John Brandtstatter.

    “We have no indication of a closure of Lathrop State Park in the foreseeable future and we are setting records for the season which runs from July to June.”

    The big activity at the state park is the work at the Martin Lake dam which should be finished well before spring snow melt fills the lake.  With cold weather and the lake level down, fishing has been slow, but Brandstatter expects it  to start picking up in February or March.

    The state parks system is finding itself strapped for cash because of state budget cuts.  In 2009, Colorado State Parks received $6.7 million in general funds.  That drops to $2.6 million in fiscal year 2011.  According to the Denver Post, funding for state parks in 2012 may be nonexistent.

    Another suggestion the five-year plan makes is that the parks look at leasing mineral rights in limited areas.  But the amount of money that could be raised on leasing was unreported.  And it was pointed out that mineral leasing is controversial and is just one option being weighed with a suggested 50,000 acres to be considered.

    Bonny State Park, north of Burlington was at the top of the closure list.  It sits near the Kansas border and has been gradually drained to meet water demands in Kansas.

    Also on the possible hit list – Sweitzer Lake, Harvey Gap and Paonia.

    The report also suggested the state could explore cost-sharing arrangement with other state and federal agencies, streamlining operations and looking for financial help from private groups.