The recent editorial “Stewardship, sponsorships will preserve our state parks” brings forth several of the important issues in regards to support of Idaho state parks.
The phrase that may be more appropriate is, “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone!” A few years ago, the proposal to eliminate the Idaho parks department and close some state parks resulted in an outcry against it. One result of the outcry was that some concerned citizens banded together and formed a nonprofit called the Friends of Idaho State Parks. The mission is to provide education about Idaho’s state parks and to work in partnership with the state of Idaho to sustain a financially stable, healthy and vibrant parks system for use by all. This organization works to advocate for Idaho state parks.
The group supported the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation in seeking the legislation that will enable them to accept commercial sponsorships to provide financial support to the parks. But this and other entrepreneurial techniques will still fall far short of making up for the cut in general funds from $18 million down to $3.5 million. The parks department still hasn’t fully recovered from this. In fact, our group estimates that each Idaho citizen pays an average of less than $1 per year to support the parks. As the editorial states, all the fees, sales, grants and registration fees aren’t going to cut it.
The parks are sustaining increased use. Staff at Eagle Island State Park have constructed temporary gravel parking lots to handle the crowds, and when parking goes into overflow, they are parking vehicles on the grass. The restrooms and sewage disposal systems are overtaxed at this park.
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Ponderosa State Park was full to capacity last Fourth of July weekend and visitors had to be turned away at the gate. That same weekend, a crowd at the north beach unit became disorderly and disruptive, causing a response by park rangers and sheriff’s deputies.
The day-use facilities at Bear Island State Park often fill to capacity, creating significant delays for visitors to launch their boats and access the park. The campground at Farragut State Park is so popular that it is booked full on reservations for months in advance. Maintenance projects have been delayed and are falling behind. The cuts in funding have already caused a significant decrease in staffing levels, and the remaining park rangers and managers are working hard to meet the increasing demands.
These are just a few symptoms of growth in demand that are indicators of a need for greater support. The status quo isn’t going to cut it, and there will be a need to grow the state park system rather than decreasing it.
Idahoans have always had an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, and this to some extent creates some complacency on these issues. We cling to the notion that we will always have unfettered access to our state parks.
The Friends of Idaho State Parks group also believes that those businesses in Idaho that thrive on the availability of outdoor recreation places — such as RV dealers, boat dealers, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, etc. — might give some consideration to financially supporting the Idaho state parks through appropriate sponsorships.
The future of Idaho state parks depends on all of us. Anyone interested in supporting our group is invited to join us. The individual membership fee is only $25. We also have corporate memberships available and will accept donations to the cause in any amount. For further information, see www.idahofriends.org.
Dennis McLane is vice president of Friends of Idaho State Parks.