Posted on 2/2/14

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LAKE MALONE, Ky. (10/23/13) — It's no secret to the residents and visitors of Lake Malone State Park, which opened in 1962, that it has fallen on hard times. Unfortunately, that seems to be a trend throughout Kentucky, due to massive cutbacks to the state budget for parks maintenance.

To emphasize the problem, state Rep. Brent Yonts (D) of House District 15, which includes the lake, chaired an unusual hearing on what some see as a shocking decline and fall of Kentucky's long treasured parks statewide.

Yonts, along with other state representatives and a senator from across the state, took part in the Interim Joint Committee on State Government Wednesday, Oct. 23 at Lake Malone.

Also on hand for the often emotional hearing were numerous media outlets, and several members of a group working to save Lake Malone, called Friends of Lake Malone.

Yonts, who co-chairs the committee with Sen. Joe Bowen of Owensboro, told the group that the reason for the degeneration of the parks all boils down to money.

"We have not funded parks as well as we should have." Yonts said. "I worked here before I went to college. There would be hundreds of people here daily — picnicking, camping, fishing, swimming and spending money in the local stores. This park is only a symbol of the real problem, which is under funding."

For Rep. Martha Jane King (D) of District 16, who represents Logan and Todd counties, this is a personal fight to save "a big part of my life. Just because we are small, doesn't mean we should get looked over." she said.

State Rep. Stan Humphries (R) Senate District 1, which includes Lake Barkley and Ken Lake, told News that while the problem is statewide, help should be allocated to solve the situation.

"All the state parks, even large parks, have been effected by cuts. It's a shame to see them come down in the last several years,” said Humphries. “We need to help get them back where they need to be."

Department of Park Commissioner Elaine N. Walker also spoke about funding woes during the meeting.

"We are reaching a critical phase,” said Walker. “For the last several years we have had financial problems. Until revenue issues are addressed, our system will continue to erode. We have been greatly affected by the down turn in the economy."

Walker added that the computer system used by the state park system is so old and outdated that "you cannot even book a room at a park on Travelocity or Expedia.

"If you log on it will tell you dates are unavailable, and will redirect you to our competitors," she said.

Yonts said Walker has done a "tremendous job" in dealing with the circumstances she has been dealt.

Rep. Brad Montell, (R) Dist. 8-Shelby Co., said the status of the state park system is distressing.

"We have long been proud of our park system in Kentucky,” he said. “It is sad to see all of our parks in one way or another, falling into disrepair."

Montell asked Walker if there was a possibility of involvement of the private sector as part of the solution.

Walker said while that might be part of the fix, several closures have resulted from losing revenue on the sites.

"One of our golf courses takes $300,000 a year to maintain,” she said. “We recently closed the golf course at Rough River State Park, because it was just not profitable."

She said that allowing a private company to run part of the park system facilities is a possible solution to at least part of the problem with parks not operating in the black.

Joseph House, of Greenville, spoke during the public forum, said while he understands the issue of revenue, the depressed economy makes state park access more important for vacationers.

"I know money is very tight,” he said. “But I have friends, who don't have a lot of money, and they can't leave Muhlenberg County to take a vacation. They love this lake. My grandson asks me, 'Can we go fishing at Lake Malone?' I'd like to be able to tell him we can."

After the meeting, Rep. Derrick Graham (D) of District 57, which includes Frankfort, told News that park funding should be a priority.

"We have to find a way to fund the parks,” he said. “Part of that is tax modernization. We need to move in that direction. This is not just a Muhlenberg County park. I'm sure many people in surrounding counties use this park."

Others suggested more alcohol sales as possible answer to funding upkeep of parks.

Several members of Friends of Lake Malone, a local group that has worked to save the lake, found the hearing to be very emotional. One member who spoke to the legislators was Melody Vaught of Belton.

"If you think this part of the park is beautiful, you should get out and go around to some of the caves and waterfalls,” said Melody Vaught of Belton. “You will see beauty you cannot imagine. There are caves here with impressions in the rocks from when Indians ground corn hundreds of years ago. I was born near this lake, and I will die here. I hope you will please not let this lake go down."

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