Reprieve for Dworshak

By Alannah Allbrett

   Idaho Parks and Recreation (IDPR) said at a board meeting Feb. 3 they were reversing their decision to close parks, stating a “paradigm shift.” Governor C.L. (Butch) Otter told IDPR the parks had to be self-sufficient and survive without general-fund monies.

   The board voted unanimously to reconsider its decision to close Dworshak Park and try to keep all 30 parks open including Land of the Yankee Fork (Challis) and Thousand Springs Parks (Hagerman). The 30 or so state and county officials present were pleasantly surprised at the announcement.   

   Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow said today that a bill he drafted did what it was supposed to do, “get their attention.” His proposed legislation would dissolve the board and make the parks director a gubernatorial appointee. Nancy Merrill (pictured), who has been filling the position of Director since September, would then be the decision maker reporting to the Governor.  When asked how this would make a difference, since the Governor is the one who created the budget to begin with, Sen. Schroeder said that the budgetary cuts are just the recommendation of the Governor.

   The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. (JFAC) made up of 10 Senators and 10 House Representatives, “will set the final budget,” he said. Senator Schroeder said of his proposed bill, “I hope I never have to run it. I was upset about the decision on Dworshak. We want to keep the parks open at some level,” he said. “The people of the state have sent a clear message to keep them open.”

   The existing parks are already running at “reduced service” levels with shorter staff numbers and fewer services. Some parks may have to be open fewer days per week to cut down on maintenance.

   Sen. Schroeder said that he and other legislators are currently working on ways to help provide funding for the parks and that people need to work together toward that end. He extended appreciation to Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert, saying, “He did a great job” in facilitating things and ”trying to keep the park open.”

   Gina Baltrusch, Public Affairs Specialist (US Army Corps of Engineers) said all that is needed (for IDPR to resume control of Dworshak) is a formal letter rescinding their original request to be let out of the lease. IDPR officially has until the end of October 2010 for termination of the lease to take effect. “There is a lengthy close-out process,” Baltrusch said, “where the facilities would have to be inspected and any necessary repairs made before the Corps would have officially taken the park back.”