Inmates construct cabins at state parks to learn job skills

Associated Press

Cabins at the state’s lakes and parks are so popular that many visitors can’t get a reservation.

Rentals of the 70 available cabins increased 155 percent last year, according to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Most of the visitors enjoying the modern cabins might be surprised to learn they were built by inmates at three state correctional facilities as part of a program to teach inmates job skills.

But the parks department is lucky if it can get a dozen cabins a year from the correctional facilities, and budget cuts have also hurt the program, Mark Stock, the department’s cabin coordinator.

The parks department doesn’t spend any taxpayer money on the cabin program and state budget cuts have affected the prison education programs. Because the parks department wants to have 150 cabins at state parks and reservoirs in the next five years, it is looking for other financing.

Officials solicited bids from home contractors for building them, he said, but he stressed that the inmate program will not be stopped anytime soon.

“We will continue to have corrections build cabins for us,” he said. “But we would like to get more cabins out there.”

The cabins include air conditioning and heating and a kitchen with a microwave, stove and refrigerator. They sleep five to six. Rental rates vary at each lake.

“It’s a chance to get away and enjoy nature without roughing it too much,” said Linda Kootz, who works at Kanopolis State Park, where there are two deluxe cabins.

Only four days are still available in May, with only six days open in July.

“That’s how popular they are,” Kootz said. “(The inmates) do amazing work, and people just love them.”

Doug Haskins, sales manager for Liberty Homes of Yoder, said he met with Stock and wildlife and parks Secretary Mike Hayden last Monday to discuss a bid and look at a future cabin site at Sand Hills State Park near Hutchinson.

“We’re submitting a proposal next week,” Haskins said. “Sure we’re interested in it. It’s business, and it is in our home state.”

One cabin can cost about $40,000 to build, Stock said.

“The public is demonstrating the demand for these,” he said. “With the economy, more people are staying closer to home.”