By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The amount of land available for public use could increase dramatically thanks to a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The money is part of the agency's Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program -- put together under the umbrella of the popular Conservation Reserve Program.

The money will let the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks expand its popular Walk-In Hunting Access program, with almost 1 million acres of land already enrolled.

Neither the federal VPA-HIP nor state WIHA program has much to do with CRP, but traditionally land enrolled in the state's WIHA program covers land set aside for the conservation program.

Farmers typically are paid a small additional amount from the state to allow public hunting.

Kansas is one of 25 states participating in the federal program, and Matt Smith, KDWP's farm bill liaison, said it will allow additional land to be enrolled.

"It will about double it," he said of the WIHA program.

Details still are being worked out, but Smith said they hope to have the extra land enrolled and available as early as this fall.

Money from the grant also will be used to help pay the cost for improving habitat for wildlife.