LAWRENCE, Kan. — Dozens of residents appear to have successfully rallied to save Lawrence’s Prairie Park Nature Center from the city’s chopping block.
Prairie Park Nature Center was slated for closure as the city looked to trim close to a million dollars in a proposed budget presented by City Manager Craig Owens in July.
The closure of Prairie Park would have netted Lawrence $337,000 annually. Tuesday night Owens presented a new plan that will keep the center open this year.
While Prairie Park seems to have a life line, the city says it wants the popular nature center to become more economically viable and self sustainable going forward.
Public comment went on for hours last month in support of the 100 acre preserve with an education center filled with animals. It’s popular with families and school field trips.
“When you see how much not just the prairie park neighborhood, but the city as a whole and beyond the city limits support this facility and enjoy being here and learning about the animals and find this to be a vital part of Lawrence we needed to bring that forward to the city,” Linda Wheeler said.
In the weeks since visitors have filled donation boxes, with the same question for the staff.
“We’ve had an enormous amount of concern and questions coming thru the public what can we do,” Marty Birrell, Prairie Park Nature Education Supervisior, said.
Owens told commissioners since the public outcry $817,000 in new overall revenue sources have been identified to the city to keep the center open and restore some funding to the Humane Society. Some of that comes from the American Rescue Plan Act. But he points out in the long run Prairie Park has to lower the 85 percent subsidy it receives from the city.
“We’re committed to finding whatever we can do to make sure the nature center continues to provide these services to the community we know the services are important,” Birrell said.
Supporters hope that can be done without making significant changes to entry fees which have been free for the two decades the center has been in existence.
“There’s no reason we can’t make this less of a burden to the city but still accessible to the people who want to be out here and need to be out here and can’t afford to be out here if it costs a lot,” Wheeler said.
This latest plan still needs Commission approval. A budget meeting is scheduled for Tuesday August 23.
Prairie Park Nature Center is already working to schedule a public input meeting on the parks long term future next month as soon as they get that official funding for the next year.
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