Mar 26, 2024 - News

Iowa state parks need $100 million in repairs

Illustration of a state park sign in the shape of Iowa.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Iowa's popular state parks need $100 million in infrastructure repairs, according to an internal state DNR report from November 2023.

Why it matters: Outdoor recreation has huge physical, social and economic benefits for the state, according to the agency's five-year plan for 2023-28.

State of play: The state's outdoor areas have experienced skyrocketing attendance since the pandemic, but the funding needed to maintain them has not kept up.

Driving the news: Despite the need for repairs, Iowa DNR executive director Kayla Lyon did not ask for any increases in her agency's status quo budget of $7.2 million this year, The Gazette first reported.

Between the lines: Lyon was appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has been advocating for "smaller government." Last year, Reynolds passed a bill reducing state agencies and jobs.

  • "People are scared of their own shadows. You're not allowed to say anything," David Downing, a former DNR executive officer, told Axios.

The big picture: Before Downing retired in January, he assessed all of Iowa's state parks and forests for the state agency. His report, obtained by Axios, estimated the need for $100 million in repairs.

  • The majority of the parks were in fair or poor condition and many did not have ADA accessible shelters and bathrooms, Downing shared in his report.
  • The DNR has faced several major cuts over the last 10 years, including to its forestry bureau, ranger housing and staff.

Zoom in: In central Iowa, Downing found the following parks needed repairs:

  • Walnut Woods had check-in stations, bathrooms, boat ramps and playgrounds that weren't ADA accessible. The road leading to the park is also rough.
  • Ledges' asphalt roads needed crack repairs and sealant. Dead ash trees needed to come down and a shelter had damage and a leaking roof due to a fallen tree.
  • Big Creek had a shelter that needed a new roof and several structures that weren't ADA accessible.

What they're saying: In a statement to The Gazette, DNR spokesperson Tammie Krausman said the department is proud of its focus on outdoor accessibility and continues to work on improvements for all park visitors.

The intrigue: Last month, the DNR held a meeting to discuss shelter repairs at Big Creek, but no timeline or budget has been set, WHO-13 reported.

The bottom line: "Parks are big business. They help the local communities that are close to the parks," Downing said.

  • In 2022, Iowa's outdoors contributed to an estimated nearly 43,000 jobs.

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