LAWRENCE, Kan. — A proposed $436 million budget will go before Lawrence City Commissioners next week. Part of nearly $1 million in cuts calls for closing the Prairie Park Nature Center in eastern Lawrence.

The preserve contains 100 acres of prairie, wildlife and fishing. But many visitors say the best part is the interactions classes, camps and field trips get inside the education center on a daily basis.

Prairie Park Nature Center costs $337,000 a year to operate, according to Lawrence budget projections.

“I just kept coming back and eventually I was like I really like being here can I come help out,” said Julia Bushue, an unpaid volunteer.

Bushue enjoys showing guests quintessential animals of the Kansas prairie, like prairie dogs, possums, ferrets and snakes. She also handles Rosie the tarantula.

“I can help someone touch a spider when they maybe had been scared to do that before. Or I can educate someone about the work we do with rehab,” Bushue said.

Lawrence City Manager Craig Owens has proposed closing the center as Lawrence tries to trim $936,000 from its budget amidst rising inflation costs. In a letter to commissioners, he points out the center ranks in the bottom quartile of aligning with the city’s strategic plan of creating an “Unmistakable Lawrence.”

“That was devastating. That’s what this is a really unique resource we have. And that it’s a place that’s free and accessible for anyone makes this place special and kind of irreplaceable,” visitor Samantha Bishop-Simmons said.

The plan calls for existing staff to be transferred elsewhere in the city and to safely rehome the
animals. Meanwhile, Owens said the building could be repurposed to something like an early education center. Guests said it already is.

“For a lot of these commissioners, I’d like to think that they are trying to be pro-education. This is education. This place educates people as young as this little girl, and to take it all away does not seem right,” Dan Merwin said.

The nature center is free, but the budget also calls for generating $1.2 million in additional revenue by raising fees at other parks and rec facilities in Lawrence. The meeting to discuss the proposed budget is Tuesday July 12 at 5:45 p.m.

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