After five years in charge, the state parks department director is ready to hand the reins to someone else.
Well, sort of ready. She had planned to stay with the agency for at least another year.
"My husband is retiring in May. So we had 'the talk,' and we decided if he retired and I did not it was not going to be any fun. We are best friends. We have a lot of stuff we want to do and a lot of things we want to see," Merrill said. "The timing just seemed right."
Merrill plans to leave her post July 18.
She took over the parks department as the state struggled with big budget cuts during the recession. Gov. Butch Otter cut the parks' general fund share of the budget from $6.3 million in 2009-10 to $1.4 million in 2010-11 in an effort to wean state parks from taxpayer funding. The cuts forced Merrill to look for new ways to raise revenue, including adding state park passports, renting recreational equipment, utilizing volunteers and partnering with private businesses. This year, lawmakers gave the department a boost, with $3.5 million of the agency's $34 million budget coming from the general fund.
"I have had an exceptionally great year this year with the Legislature, with the governor's office, with the parks board and with getting things done. We are on a good high note," she said. "It is always better to step down on a high note when things are running well and you can hand the reins off to someone on a smooth-running machine."
Merrill said she and her husband are ready to embark on new adventures - mostly involving their 15 grandchildren. Merrill said she plans to spend time with her family at their cabin in Cascade and, now that she has learned so much about them, exploring Idaho's 30 state parks.
"My heart is here in Idaho. I can pretty much see and do everything I want to do right here," she said.
Merrill, 66, began serving in Eagle city government in 1992 as part of the downtown revitalization and design review committees. She served on Eagle's Planning & Zoning Commission before she was elected to the City Council in 1995 and then was elected mayor in 2002. She announced she would not seek re-election in 2007.
While serving Eagle, she brought new parks and pathways to the city, both as a member of the City Council and as mayor. Her family donated the land for what became Merrill Park.
In 2009, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation Board selected Merrill to lead the agency. At the time, she called it her "dream job."
She still shares that sentiment. "If you are looking for a wonderful job, there is none better. This has been an amazing job. What an opportunity. I am going to miss it," she said.
Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428