We, the Friends of Idaho State Parks, believe it’s time to create another state park to serve the Treasure Valley, and that the park should be at Horsethief Reservoir.
Our group was founded during the 2009 budget crisis, when there was a threat of closing parks and even eliminating the agency. We’re relieved those dangers are behind us for now, though we remain vigilant.
Protecting the parks we have is critical. Creating new ones is no less so. We’re aware of the many competing needs of state government, so approach this cautiously. We applaud the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation for its conservative and entrepreneurial management through tight times, but embarking on a program to provide parks for a growing population is overdue.
The last state park to open within a two-hour drive of Boise was Lake Cascade in 1999. The city’s population has grown by more than 50,000 since then. The five-county Boise Metropolitan Area grew by more than 120,000 since 2006. That points to the need for additional outdoor recreation opportunities nearby.
Yes, we still have a wealth of federal land for those who enjoy backcountry hiking, sleeping in a tent and bushwhacking to get to their favorite fishing spot. State parks provide recreational experiences aimed squarely at people who appreciate developed boat ramps, docks, campgrounds with hookups, and the security of on-site management.
We have an opportunity to create that kind of park without purchasing new property. The Friends of Idaho State Parks is proposing that Parks and Rec work with Idaho Fish and Game to assume management of the state property at Horsethief Reservoir. Fish and Game is open to this. It will bring a more developed campground to the site and much-needed on-site management.
Placing a full-time ranger and seasonal personnel at Horsethief would cost about $100,000 per year, according to Parks and Rec projections, with annual operating costs of about $40,000. Camping fees are projected to bring in nearly $60,000. We envision focused development of the site through the RV Grant Program as well as the Waterways Improvement Program.
Naming a new park is within the purview of the Idaho Parks and Recreation Board. We suggest that Cecil D. Andrus State Park would be an appropriate name, honoring a man who loved to camp and fish, and left an astonishing public lands legacy in his wake.
The creation of our first state park in more than a decade can happen with public support. The cost is low and studies show that state parks put far more back into the economy than they cost to operate. Parks and Rec has shown that it can manage state money responsibly and provide high-quality opportunities at the same time. Let’s give them a chance to do that with a new park within easy reach of the Valley.
Rick Just is the president of Friends of Idaho State Parks.