Colorado May Close State Parks, Lease For Drilling

DENVER (AP) – Some state parks in Colorado may be closed, while others could be opened for oil and gas drilling to raise money for the cash-strapped parks system.

Deep budget cuts to the system have prompted a five-year plan to close several parks to save money. The Denver Post reports that the agency would save $200,000 a year by closing at least four parks.

In the 2009 fiscal year, Colorado State Parks got $6.7 million in general funds. That dropped to $2.6 million in fiscal 2011. There may be no funding for state parks next year, according to the financial plan.

The report includes a suggestion that the parks explore leasing mineral rights in limited areas. The report didn’t say how much the agency could raise through mineral leases.

State parks spokeswoman Deb Frazier told the newspaper that mineral leasing is controversial, and just one option being weighed to raise money.

“This is, in no way, a pathway we’re set on pursuing,” she said. “It remains a discussion point only as we examine methods to maintain a thriving parks system in challenging times.”

The extraction proposal suggested that parts of 50,000 acres could be open to mineral leasing.

“In the very limited areas where State Parks does own mineral rights and there may be interest in extraction, State Parks should consider the potential for new revenues through leases,” said the report.

The suggested closures include Bonny Lake State Park, north of Burlington near the Kansas border. The lake has been gradually drained to meet water demands in Kansas during drought years.

Shuttering Bonny would sting Burlington, a community of 3,500, said city administrator Bob Churchwell. When Bonny was in its heyday, it would attract plenty of anglers and boaters who would get their supplies in Burlington, he said.

“We do still get that clientele, so I can say there will be damage to the community,” Churchwell said. “But realistically, I would much rather have that piece affected than the state taking away grant dollars because of a tight budget down the road.”

Also on the possible closure list — Sweitzer Lake, Harvey Gap and Paonia.

Other options the state will explore include cost-sharing arrangements with other state and federal agencies, streamlining operations and looking for financial help from private groups.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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