TOPEKA (KSNT) – Legislation that would create a new state park in Kansas is moving closer to Governor Laura Kelly’s desk for final approval.

House Bill 2331 would establish the 28th state park of Kansas in Allen County at the Lehigh Trails if signed into law. The bill moved to the floor of the House March 16 for final action and was passed at a vote of 101 to 21 by the representatives. It was introduced to the Senate the same day and later referred to the Committee on Commerce for further discussion.

Senators sat down for a hearing on the bill March 22. Familiar faces such as Lisse Regehr, president and CEO of Thrive Allen County, and Linda Lanterman, director of state parks with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), appeared to voice support for the bill.

Regehr was the first to step forward to tell senators why creating the next state park in Allen County would be a big game-changer for the local area.

“As an Iola Industries board member, I was one of 15 who unanimously voted to donate our Lehigh Portland property to the state of Kansas with the intent of it becoming a state park,” Regehr said. “Iola Industries is gifting this property because of what it will mean for our community and for our region for generations to come.”

Testimony provided by Regehr states that the trails are “the gem of our community.” Creating a state park at the Lehigh Trails would create new traffic for local businesses and growth in the community for years to come.

Lanterman’s testimony for the park delved into some of the history of the area. The Lehigh Trails draw their name from the industrial past of the town of Iola which used to be home to prominent cement and lead smelting facilities. Following the closure of the Iola Portland Cement Company in the 1970s, Iola Industries purchased the property and began to rent sections of it. Funds were secured in 2014 to begin building a trail system which officially opened to the public in 2016.

Map provided in Lanterman’s testimony of the park. (Photo Courtesy/Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks)

Lanterman went on to say that the property is home to an abandoned quarry which now serves as a 138-acre lake, plentiful trees, native prairie areas, historic homesteads and a 300-foot-long cave. The trail’s history with the industry of Iola from the early 1900s on to the 1970s prompted an investigation by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to determine if any potential health problems would exist in the future.

Leo Henning, deputy secretary with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, provided neutral written testimony as well on some of the health aspects of implementing this new state park. His testimony shows that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency evaluated parts of Iola, a town situated just north of Lehigh Trails, for possible lead contamination.

Henning’s testimony states that Iola was once home to lead and zinc smelters which have left high concentrations of lead in the nearby area. The Lehigh Portland Lake is only a mile south of the old smelters and was found to have levels of lead that were below concern. However, concentrations of lead in Elm Creek was found to be high in one tested location and the surface water of the Neosho, Elm Creek and Rock Creek were below the drinking water standard.

To go back and watch the discussion for HB 2331 for March 22 on YouTube, click here.

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