JANUARY 28, 2010

Sitting next to Orofino’s official Christmas Tree, the sign for Dworshak State Park says, “Closed.” Signs went up the last week in December. The last signs went up on Highway on January 13, 2010. Idaho Parks and Recreation stopped accepting reservations for overnight stays in Dworshak on November 25, 2009. County officials remain optimistic that it will be reopened under their management if all the conditions can be met.

Reservation system is already closed
29 “existing parks” does not include Dworshak

By Alannah Allbrett

   Idaho’s Governor, C.L. (Butch) Otter outlined specific budgetary cuts in a meeting Friday which maintains the structure of the Idaho Parks and Recreation (IDPR), but leaves the state parks vulnerable.

   The department’s general fund budget falls from approximately $6 million to $1.6 in fiscal year 2011 and to zero by 2012. Nancy Merrill, Director of IDPR stated that they would be running the restructured department more as a business and less as a service entity.

   County Commissioner, Don Ebert said Tuesday, he has sent a formal letter to IDPR asking them to reconsider closing the park. The letter stated, “Since you now have the mindset to operate the park system within its own means we are asking you to reconsider your decision to close Dworshak park. We have had your support and encouragement in the idea that we could make Dworshak self sufficient, but at this juncture we feel you could do the same thing if you so choose.”

   He received a reply back saying that it is a board decision and will be discussed at the next board meeting on Feb. 3. For residents of Clearwater County, what the talks did not state is the park system of 29 parks being discussed, did not include Dworshak. Speaking with Jennifer Wernix, Monday, (Communications Manager of IDPR), it was clear that Dworshak is no longer even a consideration when talks are held about maintaining “the remaining 29 parks.”  Once the closed signs went up at Dworshak, December 31, 2009, and personnel and equipment were removed from the site – Dworshak was officially closed.

    Due to Dworshak being owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, that park clearly became the one at the top of the list for closures. Hells Gate State Park in Lewiston is also owned by the Corps.

   Since finding out about the upcoming park closure at the end of October, 2009, local officials have met frequently to search for ways to continue its operation. Clearwater County Commissioner, Don Ebert said Friday that talks are continuing, as they “try to hammer out contractual issues.” He said that he is hopeful something will happen shortly. “It’s going to have to,” said Ebert.

   Wernex said, “It is all still under the microscope,” referring to the finality of Clearwater County taking over management of Dworshak Park.       

   Since talks began with IDPR, Clearwater County officials were always assured that the State’s online reservation system would stay in effect as a tool for taking future reservations. When, in fact, IDPR stopped accepting reservations for overnight stays in Dworshak on November 25, 2009.

   IDPR’s website states: “Reservations Suspended: Dear Valued Customer, In light of the current economy the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation is in the process of turning Dworshak State Park back to its owner - the Army Corp of Engineers. For this reason all reservation activity is being suspended while transition plans are made. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this causes.”

   Ms. Wernex said the reservation system is an asset once they work through the details – “It is part of the whole scheme,” she said. Because the Corps of Engineers’ reservation system, like IDPR, uses the same vendor, Reserve America, they thought that would simplify the transition of another entity using the reservation website. But once IDPR did not occupy the premises (December 31, 2009), they could no longer accept reservations.

   “Existing reservations are in a holding pattern,” said Wernex, “until a management agreement is in place with Clearwater County. If no agreement is reached, we’ll have to contact customers to cancel, or see if they are interested in an overnight stay within a different Idaho State Park.”

   Wernex stated, “All details and opportunities are being reviewed for feasibility by all parties involved. We are “still optimistic about a management agreement! It would be great for the community and park visitors, and IDPR will do all it can to help the county succeed,” said Wernex.