State parks filling up for busiest holiday of the year

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June 29th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

Nearly all of the campsites with electricity at Iowa state parks are now occupied or reserved for the busiest weekend of the summer. Kevin Szcodronski, state parks bureau chief with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says lodges and campgrounds should be in good condition. But, he warns other areas of state parks may be in a bit of disrepair because of state budget cuts. 

“We’re doing the best we can with the time and resources available, but we know we’re going to disappoint some park visitors on the condition of the park they’re visiting. We’re disappointed, but I’ll assure everybody that we’re doing our best to have them ready for the Fourth of July,” Szcodronski said. 

The number of seasonal workers at state parks has been cut by around two-thirds. “We typically have put on, over the years, as many as 300 to 350 summer workers. Those are the ones that keep the facilities clean and mow the grass. Because of budget challenges, we’ve had to cut that back and we now only have around 80 out there,” Szcodronski said. 

The Iowa DNR has also trimmed the number of park rangers in the state from 80 to 59. Szcodronski told legislators earlier this month that “deferred maintenance” at state parks is “nonexistent.” So, park staff  are focused primarily on emergency repairs like fixing leaky pipes – rather than painting, caulking or re-shingling buildings. Several state park campsites are closed right now because of the flooding Missouri River. Szcodronski says the popular Lewis and Clark State Park in Onawa is closed even though floodwaters have yet to reach the park. 

He says the forecast calls for the park to buried under four to five feet of water. “That hasn’t happened yet, but we have the park postured and it would be kind of tough to open it up…we really don’t want to do that, to get it all back opened up to find out a week or so later it’s going to be covered and destroy everything that we did,” Szcodronski said. 

The Lake Manawa and Wilson Island State Park campgrounds are also closed in western Iowa. A couple of state parks are closed for construction: Lake Darling in southeast Iowa’s Washington County and Union Grove State Park near Marshalltown. 

(Pat Curtis/Radio Iowa)