Before anybody gets stressed about the downside or hazards of accepting sponsorship/strategic partnership money to maintain Idaho state parks — and what we might have to give up to get it — let’s consider the present reality.
When it comes to maintaining Idaho parks, we all have Chateaubriand aspirations but hamburger budgets — we love and enjoy all of our outdoor preserves and want to keep them.
Reality check: In recent years the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) has lost about 80 percent of its funding. The Associated Press this week reported that support has diminished from a high of about $18 million in 2008 to about $3.5 million this year. That’s an incredibly deep decline with no solution from state coffers. Relying on fees, sales, grants and registration fees isn’t going to cut it.
To make this even more interesting, during the monetary decline, IDPR instituted its extremely popular $10 Idaho State Passport admission program — spiking use and visitation at the 30 state parks.
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Going forward, the equation of less money plus more people equals what? That’s not a good plan. But identifying and developing financial partners is a great plan. Kudos to IDPR and Idaho lawmakers for seeking out alternative solutions. We want it to succeed. In fact, it has to be successful.
Parks at every level are struggling in every state. In California, where a number of the state’s 280 state park units faced closure or severely restricted hours of operation, the state developed the Proud Partner program. The program allows corporations and businesses to reach out to the more than 70 million people who visit California parks through a variety of financial sponsorships.
You won’t see billboards proclaiming that this view or that feature is brought to you by Brand X detergent, and nobody is pushing for something resembling Disneyland in the forest.
That’s not going to happen in Idaho, either. We trust IDPR to make connections with mostly indigenous strategic partners — companies and organizations that share IDPR’s values. And that is what has happened on a small scale so far: Airstream Travel Trailers provided a trailer and assistance to help IDPR celebrate its 50th anniversary and introduce its new mascot, Scout the Fox. Also, The North Face and Cabela’s have donated grants and/or equipment to assist IDPR programs.
Subaru donates to the National Park Foundation, and we hope other car, truck and camping concerns will sponsor things in Idaho, too. We imagine, and hope, that outdoor recreation groups and conservation organizations — both state and national — will find a way to participate, or enlist some of their own sponsors to support IDPR.
Parks and partnerships — it’s where we’re headed in Idaho and around the country. We trust there is a sweet spot on the continuum of stewardship and sponsorship, and we think it can work.
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