Public access to some areas of the state’s newest park will cost more than a weeklong pass for an entire family at the Grand Canyon.
Anyone who wants to walk through fragile rock formations in Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park will have to buy a $50 permit, the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission has decided. The park is expected to open sometime in 2019.
Little Jerusalem, 330 acres near the Smoky River Valley in western Kansas, is a rare geological jewel that features chalky spires and buttes jutting as high as 100 feet in the air. It is home to the largest Niobrara chalk formation in Kansas.
The permit is aimed at preserving the rock formations, which hold fossils and unique ecosystems.
“The problem is that part of the park can’t withstand unfettered access,” said Gerald Lauber, chair of the commission that voted to approve the fee Thursday. “It’s fragile, and I don’t know what else we can do.
“What we’re doing is we’re basically using price to some extent to really regulate. We’d like to have everybody be able to afford to go, but if you’re going to go, there has to be a cost for us to have a guide or something,” Lauber said.
The Little Jerusalem access permit will be the first of its kind at a Kansas state park. It will cost an adult $50 a day and be free for children under 16.
All visitors with access permits will be monitored by staff to make sure there’s no damage to the rocks.
It’s not clear exactly what areas will require the permit.
“It’s a guided tour that will go into the belly of the badlands,” said Linda Craghead, assistant secretary for Kansas’ parks and tourism department.
“If they want to just come in and walk around and see the broad view of the badlands, no extra cost,” Craghead said in a presentation to the commission Thursday night.
Visitors can use an approximately 2-mile trail around the perimeter of rock formations without buying an access permit. They would have to buy a $5 daily state park vehicle permit.
Many national parks that are home to the United States’ most prized natural wonders charge entrance fees. As a comparison, Grand Canyon National Park costs $35 a week for a family vehicle. A person entering the park by foot, bike or shuttle must pay $20.
Badlands National Park in South Dakota costs $20 a week for a family vehicle. A person entering the park by foot, bike or shuttle must pay $10.
Kansas is among states with the least public land. The Nature Conservancy of Kansas, a nonprofit charity based in Virginia, bought Little Jerusalem from private owners in 2016. It will join the state’s park system when it opens.
The state has plans for Little Jerusalem and Historic Lake Scott State Park, both more than four hours west of Wichita, to “fully launch economy in western Kansas from a tourism perspective,” according to commission minutes.
Craghead, the assistant secretary of the parks department, said a lack of state funding for the department contributed to the need for the fee to pay staff who will monitor park visitors.
“We receive no state general tax dollars ... “ Craghead said. “We have to pay for those costs (for staff).”
The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is funded primarily by money collected through hunting and fishing license sales. The agency also receives federal grants and about $5 million from the state’s lottery system.
The department expects to issue no more than 40 permits a day to Little Jerusalem. Assuming the park can draw that many visitors a day an entire year, the permits could bring in $730,000 a year to the state’s park fee fund, an economic impact statement says.
Craghead said park staff will act as guides for visitors who pay the access fee. Most tours are expected to last two hours. Since the groups will likely be small, the tours will be “very intimate,” Craghead told the commission.
“I think the thing that’s important to remember is this is a very fragile park,” Craghead said. “We only have one chance to open it, guys, so we’ve got to do it right.”