TOPEKA (KSNT) – Kansas could be getting a new state park thanks to a bill currently moving through the legislature.

Originally introduced by Representative Fred Gardner (R) of Garnett on behalf of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) on Feb. 7, House Bill 2331 aims to create a new state park in Allen County. This would be the 28th state park in Kansas.

The bill would amend K.S.A. 32-837 which contains the current list of state parks by adding in the Lehigh Portland State Park in Allen County near the town of Iola. This park would pay homage to Allen County’s industrial past and the cement plants present at the site, according to the KDWP.

On Feb. 16, supporters of the bill came forward from local businesses, organizations and residents in Allen County to talk about why the new state park would be a game-changer. To watch the full video on the bill hearing in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, click here.

“This is a huge deal we feel like for economic development of our area,” said John Masterson with Iola Industries, Inc. “We think its [Lehigh state park] recreational value will make it attractive to businesses that might be going to locate or to our existing industries and their employees and, most importantly, we think it’ll help new employees to our businesses which I know that you probably haven’t heard this from other places but we desperately need in our industries and around Allen County.”

The KDWP supports HB 2331 as it will allow the agency to offer enhanced access, safety, community relations, programming, marketing and enforcement at the property. The KDWP states that the property is home to:

  • An abandoned quarry
  • A 138-acre lake
  • Historic farmsteads
  • A 300-foot-long cave
  • Birdwatching
  • Trails

The Lehigh Portland Trails website states that the site has 2.5 miles of wide gravel trails and more than 12 miles of natural-surface trails for mountain biking, trail running and nature hikes. These trials connect to others such as the Prairie Spirit Trail and the Southwind Rail Trail. The trails are the work of Thrive Allen County on land owned by Iola Industries, Inc.

“More than anything, this gift given by Iola Industries to the state is about preserving our rural way of life,” Lisse Regehr, president and CEO of Thrive Allen County. “Rural communities in Kansas are on the decline. On average, we’re losing population and businesses. Allen County is no exception, but we are actively working to change this.”

The fiscal note attached to this bill states that the KDWP would require $50,000 in FY 2024 for various costs associated with surveying the property and title work. In FY 2025 through FY 2027, the fiscal note states that $200,000 would be allocated for creating a master plan to determine which services should be included at the park. Design and building construction costs would range from $5 to $7 million.

To read the full bill, see the document below:

hb2331_00_0000 by Matthew Self on Scribd

Follow Matthew Self on Twitter: