The deep-green valley of the Cumberland River, which state officials used as a backdrop for a news conference Thursday, showcased the beauty of Kentucky’s state parks.
But as officials spoke on a patio at the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park lodge, there was a bucket on the dining-room floor under a leak in the roof, and the swimming pool, half-filled with greenish water, was closed for the summer because of a leak.
The state’s vaunted system of parks is showing some wear, and it’s time to begin tackling the problem, officials said.
Gov. Matt Bevin and others held the news conference to discuss spending $18 million to fix safety and maintenance problems at parks and do some renovation such as painting and replacing siding.
“We have a stunning array of state parks here in Kentucky, but they have become a bit tired,” Bevin said. “We need to make our parks shine. They are major contributors to the wealth of our state, and could be so much more if they are places people can visit while enjoying the amenities they expect.”
Bevin said the state’s parks generate $890 million worth of economic impact annually.
The legislature included an extra $18 million in the budget that begins in July to address a maintenance backlog at the parks.
That is the biggest increase in additional money for the parks system — above regular maintenance funding — in at least a decade, state officials said.
The work needed around the state includes repairs to roofs, electrical systems and sidewalks.
Parks Commissioner Donnie Holland said that visitors comment on maintenance needs, and that parks have lost business over some problems.
For instance, Lake Barkley State Resort Park has lost events because of problems with air-conditioning, leaks and other maintenance problems, Holland said.
Holland said safety will take priority in deciding how to spend the $18 million.
The initial focus will be on the 17 resort parks, which have lodges. The state operates 49 parks, which together have 1,600 buildings. All the money will go to repair existing facilities, not build new ones.
The effort to refresh the state’s parks won’t come close to fixing everything. An estimated $241 million worth of maintenance and repair needs have been identified.
“We have a lot of work to get done,” said Don Parkinson, secretary of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, which oversees the park system. “This $18 million is just a drop in the bucket. But it’s an important drop.”
At Cumberland Falls, Holland authorized $150,000 to fix the pool, but the work is not expected to be done until August.
The other work at Cumberland Falls will include fixing leaks in the roof of the lodge, upgrading railings and sprucing up paint and signs.
Bevin said some maintenance needs at state parks have been delayed for years, and that before he took office, money collected from a transient lodging tax, which is supposed to be used to promote the park system, had been switched to other uses.
“On several fronts we have failed to take advantage of what we have. That is going to change,” Bevin said.
Officials said legislation on public-private partnerships the legislature approved this year will allow more flexibility in seeking private investment that could enhance parks.
The state does not want to sell parks, but there is an interest in having private businesses handle some operations at parks, Holland said.
That could mean having a concessionaire operate the golf course or lodge at a park, for instance, and perhaps even build additional rooms.
Holland said one project the state would be interested in pursuing through a public-private partnership would be a lodge at Burnside Island State Park in Pulaski County.