The head of Iowa’s state parks system says volunteers are stepping in to fill some of the vacancies caused by anticipated budget cuts to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. But, Kevin Szcondronski says the free work is not enough to properly maintain the parks.
He says, at one time, the D.N.R. hired as many as 300 seasonal workers to care for the parks. This year, there are 80 workers on staff.
“The one thing I am most proud of Iowa’s state park system is they are all open,” Szcondronski said. “If you’ve been reading the paper (about) California, Utah, Michigan and some of the consternations there…it get’s ugly in the state when you start talking about closing down parks. And we’ve avoided that.”
The Iowa D.N.R. has also trimmed the number of park rangers in the state from 80 to 59. Szcondronski says that’s created some tough situations. “Lake MacBride in Cedar Rapids, where we have some gang activity has found our inexpensive retreats and our beaches – they’ve pretty much removed the family participation on beaches. So we’re working with a whole group of enforcement officers up there the next two or three weekends to try to get a hold of that before it dangerously gets out of control. That’s just one example,” Szcondronski said.
He’s warning visitors to Iowa state parks they may be surprised by the conditions of some facilities and attractions. “Overall in state parks, we are in emergency only basis. Deferred maintenance is nonexistent,” Szcondronski said. “So, we are not painting, caulking or re-shingling. We’re waiting for things to start leaking, we’re waiting for pipes to break…and then we’ll address them. That’s how we’ve been getting along there.”
Szcondronski testified Friday during a budget hearing at the statehouse. Governor Branstad has proposed a $2 million budget cut for the D.N.R., which would mean a 39% reduction since 2009.