By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The state's wildlife agency escaped relatively unharmed when the gavel fell on the Legislature's budget-making process.

There will still be anguish, however, according to Chris Tymeson, chief legal counsel for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

In the final hours of the session, legislators approved a measure requiring the opening of the west entrance of the Tuttle Creek State Park river pond area.

That gate had been closed after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started making repairs on the Tuttle Creek dam after structural weaknesses were found in the wake of the 1993 floods.

"It's going to have a fiscal impact," said Tymeson, the agency's point man on dealing with the Kansas Legislature.

The cost of reopening the entrance will be about $46,000 annually.

"We're going to have to man the gate," he said.

Extra costs will be required to repair the road.

KDWP also lost $527,244 from the state's general fund for parks, but Tymeson said the agency is hoping that can be made up with increased visitation -- brought about by higher fuel costs and a slowdown in the economy.

There's no plan to increase park fees from its half-price scale that was implemented several years ago when the Legislature agreed to contribute money from the state general fund to entice visitors.

"If people spend more money in the parks, we'll be able to offset cuts in the general fund," he said.

Despite those cuts, the agency was granted enough money and authority to hire a natural resource officer for Osage County.

On the final day of the session, the Legislature also approved the state's 25th park -- the Prairie Spirit rail-trail in Franklin, Anderson and Allen counties.

The trail will go from Ottawa to Garnett -- where its headquarters will be -- on down to Iola. The Ottawa to Garnett leg is the newest addition to the trail, Tymeson said.

Additionally, KDWP was able to clear up confusion dealing with overlapping issues with blaze orange requirement on Fort Riley.

What the agency didn't get was permission to change how it deals with setting the daily prices for cabin rentals at state lakes.

KDWP had wanted to remove the task from legislative channels to a regulation system that would have been subject to public hearings in front of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission. The idea was to streamline the process.

"That didn't go anywhere," Tymeson said.