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Montana State Parks Prepare To Move Forward

Friday, August 23, 2002

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During the past year, the Montana State Parks Futures II Committee, appointed by Governor Judy Martz, met in nine cities across the state, held seven public meetings, and conducted on-site reviews of 11 state parks. Its findings, the second full review of Montana State Parks in 13 years, are now available for public comment from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. The Committee's draft report is on the FWP web site at fwp.state.mt.us; at FWP offices statewide, at Montana libraries; and from the Montana Consensus Council at www.discoveringmontana.com/mcc.

The first study in 1989 came 60 years after the first Montana State Park was created. The State Parks system was struggling with limited funding and a backlog of maintenance and repairs. Some parks lacked basic facilities such as potable water, interpretive signs, and adequate parking. With the approval of Governor Stan Stephens and the State Legislature, FWP formed the first State Parks Futures Committee to look into the situation and recommend some solutions.

After a careful review, the Committee members suggested that the state should reinstate state general fund dollars to help fund parks; allocate some Bed Tax revenues to parks; divest federal sites managed by FWP; charge an RV fee to fund campground improvements; and improve the user fee system.

Twelve years later, due in part to the Committee's recommendations, Montana's State Parks were significantly improved and ready to take the next step. In 2001, Gov. Martz appointed a nine-member citizen and legislative group, known as the State Park Futures II Committee, to again review the parks system and recommend improvements. The Montana Consensus Council facilitated Committee meetings and documented the group’s progress for the draft report now available.

The Committee was impressed by the diversity of the parks system, which includes sites that highlight Montana’s geology, Native American and pioneer history, battlefields, buffalo jumps, motorboat recreation, fishing, and urban recreation opportunities. The Committee found that the parks are staffed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable professionals who welcome help from many local 'Friends of the Park' organizations.

As one Committee member, Margaret Moddison, said, "Montana State Parks may be one of the best kept secrets in this state, economically, educationally and simply for the enjoyment they offer Montanans."

Based on this review, and well-informed by comments from the public and parks friends groups, the Committee identified a short list of improvements for Montanans to consider and comment on.

The Committee's suggestions include:

· Improving public information and education at state parks;

· Improving marketing to increase the number of people who benefit from parks, strengthening partnerships, and making parks even more a part of local communities and civic organizations;

· Improving opportunities for parks visitors to meet and learn from Native Americans knowledgeable about their culture, the parks, and surrounding areas;

· Sustaining or improving State Parks maintenance;

· Establishing a State Park in northeastern Montana; and

· Promoting the role of State Parks in growing the state’s economy.

With this new ‘to do’ list comes increased costs. The Committee identified several potential funding options, including: increasing user fees; increasing the RV fee; imposing a vehicle license plate fee to replace park entrance fees; and charging a registration fee on non-motorized boats with the revenue dedicated in part to State Parks.

Public comments may be submitted on the FWP web site, or by email to: dmcrae@state.mt.us. Following the public comment period a final report will be prepared and submitted to Governor Martz and the Legislature this fall.

The Committee's draft report is available on the FWP web site at fwp.state.mt.us; at FWP offices statewide, at Montana libraries; from the Montana Consensus Council at www.discoveringmontana.com/mcc; or by contacting FWP at 406-444-3750.