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Kansas eyes change park entrance fee structure

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Gov. Sam Brownback is considering signing a bill that would change the fee structure for entrance to Kansas state parks in order to generate more money and boost park attendance.

The proposal would allow Kansas residents to purchase a $15.50 annual pass for their vehicles to the 26-park system each year when they register their vehicles. The plan is patterned after a change made in Michigan that resulted in more revenues for the state's park system.

Linda Craghead, assistant secretary for parks and tourism, said the goal is to get 10 percent of all vehicles in Kansas to purchase a pass. In Michigan, 27 percent of residents who registered their vehicles also purchased a pass when the program was started in 2011.

"First and foremost, it's a matter of convenience for our customer base," she said. "If we make it easier to get there, it's going to be more likely that they will come."

Craghead said there was an interest from policymakers and residents who use the state parks to provide more outdoor opportunities. With the expected additional revenues, the state hopes to enhance facilities, including more cabins and shelters.

The agency raises about $1.68 million each year from annual and daily park entrance fees. If 10 percent of the state's residents participate, that figure could grow to $3.47 million, she said, adding that the agency's budget has been cut by 55.5 percent since 2007.

More than 7 million people visited state parks in 2010, the most recent figures available.

"It's really about getting people engaged with the outdoors and disengaging from the electronics," Craghead said. "This process makes the effort to get a pass less invasive."

Brownback signed a park policy bill Friday that raises the age for senior citizens to receive an exemption for purchasing a hunting or fishing license from 65 to 75.

Wildlife and Parks Secretary Robin Jennison said that the goal wasn't to take anything away from senior citizens, but to encourage residents to pass Kansas outdoor traditions on to their children and grandchildren.

"It's about taking care of the resource," he said. "Compared to what existed in Kansas 65 years ago, what we have created is a sportsman's mecca."

Jennison said the revenue generated by the license change would be used to further state wildlife programs and was part of the agency's strategy to become more self-sufficient. He said when the exemption was set at 65 years old in 1971, life expectancy was 71 years old, compared to 78 today.

Legislators were hesitant at first, saying that an additional cost for a license would burden senior citizens who are living on fixed incomes. The change is expected to generate more than $700,000 for the agency, of which $225,000 would come from matching federal funds.

Jennison said hunters and fishermen pay excise tax on their equipment, which is returned to the state based on the number of licenses issued. But because those 65 and older don't get a license, the state had no way to receive its share of the funds.

The bill also includes changes in hunting laws for crossbows and the extension of the archery season to help control the growing deer population in some parts of the state. Rep. Joe Seiwert, a Pretty Prairie Republican, said the change was necessary to reduce the number of vehicle collisions with deer statewide.

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Online:

Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism: http://www.ksoutdoors.com