Our point of view

Jeff HagenerHow town halls create state parks

?Look at a Montana state highway map and you’ll see small black icons of a mountain and the sun scattered from Whitefish to Decker. The symbols indicate Montana’s 50 state parks. However, a more fitting symbol for these cultural, historic, and natural treasures might be a town hall.

That’s because state parks are created and improved by groups of local citizens working together. They build public support, negotiate with landowners, and lobby for funding and legislative approval. Without community support, Montana would have no state parks.

The most recent example is our new Tower Rock State Park, along the Missouri River between Helena and Great Falls. A landmark cited by the Corps of Discovery, this 136-acre site was ac-quired thanks to the dedication of local residents and the Reaching the Rockies Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. Travelers’ Rest State Park is another important Lewis and Clark Expedition site ac-quired by FWP—in this case, thanks to the Lolo community’s support.

Recently the FWP commission and the Montana Land Board approved acquisition of Brush Lake State Park. Northeastern Montana’s first state park, Brush Lake is the result of dedicated local residents who lobbied to have the park established after reviewing and analyzing dozens of possible sites in the region.
Grassroots support has also been behind many state park im-provements. For years, Clark’s Lookout near Dillon lacked information displays or even a sign indicating that it was a state park. FWP created interpretive exhibits and a monument at the historic site with the assistance of $10,000, contributed by the Camp Fortunate Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, and citizens who participated in planning the project.

Several years ago, FWP teamed up with community supporters to develop interpretive displays near Anaconda Smokestack State Park, including a replica of the famous brick smokestack and exhibits that detail the area’s rich mining history. At Council Grove State Park, we partnered with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes to create a monument recognizing the Hellgate Treaty of 1855. Community leaders also worked with us to secure funding for new interpretive signs and displays at Missouri Headwaters State Park—just in time for the Corps of Discovery Bicentennial.

The next time you are out exploring Montana, consider visiting a state park. State parks preserve places important to Montana history, and they provide recreational opportunities ranging from waterskiing and ice fishing to camping and birdwatching.

But perhaps the greatest value of state parks is what they bring to communities. State parks put local cultural and natural history into a larger, statewide context. They also highlight important community assets, while attracting tourists to nearby gas stations, cafes, and motels. State parks are great for local economies.

And town halls are great for state parks. A town hall is a place where citizens come together to decide what’s best for their community. It represents democracy and civic pride. And in many places across Montana, a town hall also symbolizes the strong and effective local support that sustains our great state park system..Bear bullet


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