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Idaho Needs Its Parks

Talk of closing state parks is woefully shortsighted

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All of this talk about closing Idaho parks to balance the state budget is outrageously shortsighted. It's high time for all Idahoans to speak up and let Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and legislators know that gutting the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation is not only wrong, it would crush rural counties and eliminate one of our state's greatest assets.

I'm a longtime outdoor recreationist who has had the privilege to visit all of our state parks, from Priest Lake to Bear Lake. I've fly fished in Harriman State Park, marveled at the turquoise-clear waters of Bear Lake, paddled a canoe under Thousand Springs, climbed to the top of the Bruneau Dunes, ridden my bike on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in Farragut State Park and so much more.

Visiting our state parks reminds us of why we love Idaho, and why we live here. It's an integral part of our quality of life. It's also a key part of our tourism economy. Idaho parks visitors generated $40 million in economic impact in 2009. Why would we want to undermine that? We're trying to rebuild our economy, right?

The first park on the chopping block, Dworshak, triggered an avalanche of opposition from Clearwater County. The county has double-digit unemployment. Dworshak is an important economic asset that brings in-state and out-of-state visitors to the area. Local legislators and county commissioners descended on the Idaho Parks and Recreation Board on Feb. 3, asking for reconsideration.

Lewiston Democrate Sen. Joe Stegner said closing parks is not the answer to balancing the budget ... "not now, not ever." The Parks Board vowed to redouble efforts in the next 30 days to reopen the park next summer.

Pick another park to close, any park in Idaho, and you'll hear loud opposition, and rightly so. Idahoans love our parks.

Under the governor's budget plan, our state parks don't stand a chance. IDPR is coming under extreme duress. At least 25 full-time positions could get chopped, park fees would increase and services would decline.

We can't run state parks on user fees alone. There isn't a state parks agency in the United States that has done it. Plus, we don't want to make visiting parks unaffordable. Anyone remember all the fallout from federal recreation fees?

There might be a silver bullet to solve this mess. We could tack on a $5 fee to vehicle registration fees to raise general ongoing funds for IDPR, and in return for paying the extra fee, Idaho residents could drive into our state parks at no charge. The $5 million proposal was presented to legislative budget writers this week as part of a forward-thinking business plan. The registration fee approach is similar to what Montana and Washington have already adopted.

Encourage your legislators and the governor to get behind a legislative proposal like this to halt the damaging talk about eliminating state parks. Become a fan of the Friends of Idaho State Parks page on Facebook. Sign the online petition to save parks. We need a long-term solution to funding IDPR in a way that preserves our state parks for perpetuity.

: Steve Stuebner is an avid outdoor recreationist from Boise who has visited every state park in Idaho. Contact Steve at sstuebner@cableone.net.

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