Iowa state parks to get upgrade

Published 9:40 am Monday, October 29, 2012

By Rod Boshart, Mason City Globe-Gazette

DES MOINES — State park supporters have announced plans to mount a public-private effort to spruce up the 87 parks by the system’s centennial year in 2020 and beyond.

“We intend to help cultivate stewardship through environmental education and research, increase the number of park users and improve the quality of visitor experiences in Iowa’s parks and places of natural beauty,” said Gov. Terry Branstad, who joined members of the Iowa Parks Foundation last week for a Statehouse announcement and release of new survey data on park usage.

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The multi-year effort likely will require “hundreds of millions of dollars,” the head of the state park system said, but foundation leaders and Branstad said it is too early to put a dollar figure on what will be required to upgrade state parks until more work is done over the next year to assess the needs and formulate a strategy for improving the facilities, infrastructures and amenities that Iowans support.

Branstad said he did not expect state policy makers would support increasing the state sales tax or re-imposing a user fee to generate revenue, although he left open the option of using a share of the state’s $688 million surplus to beef up funding for the park system.

Branstad likened the public-private approach for the state parks to the formation of a foundation that helped raise funds privately to supplement money the state put up to upgrade the fairgrounds.

Iowa Parks Foundation leaders released results of an $85,000 survey they funded that found that 79 percent of the 1,237 respondents indicated they had been to one of Iowa’s state parks in the past two years. That exceeded a 72 percent level for national park attendance. The Iowa response was even higher among families with children under the age of 19.

Also, three out of four respondents indicated that trails and other outdoor park facilities and activities were important or very important to their health and the health of other household members.

The state is in the third year of a $5 million annual appropriation for park upgrades. DNR officials recently had a dozen community forums.