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NEWS: Inmate-Built Cabins For Rent at Kansas State Parks

Inmate-built cabin

A cabin built by Kansas inmates has been placed at Fall River State Park. Courtesy of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Summer’s coming, and attendance at Kansas State Parks is about to swell. With many free park attendance days and other inexpensive ways for people to get away and enjoy the state‘s diverse landscapes and attractions, the number of visitors renting park cabin rose dramatically last year. Tourists are in luck as even more cabins are being added this year, thanks to a partnership between the parks department, two non-profit organizations, and the state correctional facilities. Trained inmates are working year-round on the construction of deluxe, one-bedroom cabins to be placed at state parks across the state. Even though many families’ vacation budgets have been affected by the economy, these inexpensive rentals are expected to be just as popular this year.

“This provides an opportunity for folks to get outdoors and enjoy the natural resources of Kansas and experience it at a time when most folks wouldn’t get to,” Mark Stock, the cabin coordinator at the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, told me.

The program helps inmates learn job skills and earn accreditation with help from the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center at Greenbush. Greenbush provides supervisors to teach construction skills to the inmates, who upon release can take what they’ve learned into the workforce. The blueprints the inmates are following for the one-bedroom style cabins were created by a committee of partnership members.

In these completed cabins, guests are hardly roughing it. There’s heat in the winter and air conditioning for the warmer months. The model of cabins being built now are one-bedrooms, but they comfortably sleep four to six adults. In addition to the full-size bed in the bedroom, you’ll find a twin Murphy bed and a futon that can fit two. Stock says that future designs could enclose the porch, making an additional sleeping area, allowing for larger families and groups of friends to stay under the same roof.

“The deluxe cabins have all the essentials of home,” Stock told me. The kitchen, accented by the light-wood cabinetry also crafted by the inmates, has a stove, range, microwave, and coffeemaker. The stall shower in the bathroom has rails and other features to help people with disabilities.

What you won’t find? TVs or phones, but Stock says they are looking into ways to bring wi-fi to the parks and cabins. “The public is demanding it, and we see a need for it, but there’s a pretty big infrastructure cost,” he says.

This summer Fall River, Pomona, Clinton, and Scott Lake state parks are scheduled to be be receiving their first cabins. Later in the year, Kanopolis, Prairie Dog, and Cheney state parks will be getting additional cabins. The cabins have a 30-year-life expectancy cabins, but, Stock expects them to be around a lot longer than that.

The approximately 70 cabins in 15 Kansas state parks and near four fishing lakes have always been popular, but with the new online reservation system, they are booking up even more quickly. There are a few spots left this summer. To check for availability for specific parks and units, visit https://reserve.ksoutdoors.com/.— Hilary Solan