Our point of view

Jeff Hagener?State parks now more affordable than ever

If you have relatives heading to Montana for a visit, or if you are looking for places where your family can recreate or learn more about this great state, consider visiting some of Montana’s 42 state parks.

A trip to a state park can be a walk into the past: on a battlefield, along a ghost town’s wooden boardwalk, across an ancient sea bed rich in dinosaur bones. It can be a quiet place to view wildlife or catch a fish. Or a campsite where family and friends share stories by the light of a campfire.

Though Glacier and Yellowstone national parks are big draws to Montana, our state parks offer some equally attractive sights and features that many people miss on their way to and from the national sites. Marvel at the stupendous stalactites and stalagmites in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, for example, or the eerie rock formations at Makoshika. If it’s recreation you’re after, try Flathead Lake’s camping and boating, the crappie fishing at Tongue River Reservoir, or a float trip down the beautiful and remote Smith River. Join the many visitors who flock to our urban state parks, such as the trimmed lawns and colorful gardens of the state Capitol grounds, or the swimming beaches, hiking trails, and picnic areas at Spring Meadow in Helena and Lake Elmo in Billings. And don’t miss our cultural and historical parks, such as Travelers’ Rest, Missouri Headwaters, and Ulm Pishkun, as well as Chief Plenty Coups, which we feature in this issue.

State parks have changed a lot in the past 15 years. In the late 1980s, the parks were in rough shape: roads were impassible, maintenance was neglected, and many facilities had reached the end of their useful life. In 1989, the legislature authorized us to begin charging a day-use fee. With those funds, and some dollars later from the state hotel room tax, we’ve begun raising state parks to their great potential.

Beginning this year, Montanans no longer need to pay daily or annual state park fees. According to a law passed by the 2003 legislature, revenue to operate, maintain, and improve state parks will come from an optional $4 added to vehicle registrations. (Camping and other special fees will still be required, and nonresidents will continue to pay daily or annual entrance fees.)

We are extremely proud of Montana’s state park resources and programs and strive to make them as inviting, entertaining, and accessible as possible. To do that, we depend heavily on the hundreds of volunteers and “friends-of” groups whose generosity and energy help us keep the parks in good shape and teach visitors about state park history and amenities.

Starting this year, a Montana vehicle license plate acts as your park pass. That means state parks will be more affordable than ever to Montana residents and, we hope, more people than ever will get the chance to see what their state parks have to offer.

To learn more about Montana state parks, visit the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov.Bear bullet

M. Jeff Hagener is Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks