MARCH 4, 2010

Reinstatement of Dworshak challenged with reduced staff, services

By Alannah Allbrett

   A revised plan for keeping all (30) state parks open was voted upon Feb. 25 by the Idaho Parks and Recreation Board (IDPR). “The good news,” Nancy Merrill (Director IDPR) said, “is our 30 state parks will remain open for public enjoyment, and we’re confident that our very supportive customers will understand that changes were necessary.”

   Like other state parks in the system, Dworshak will operate with fewer services available and on a seasonal basis. “Our agency’s goal will be to focus on generating revenue to maintain operations long-term,” said Merrill.

   A working plan to reopen Dworshak includes: oversight management from Hells Gate State Park. Clearwater County Sheriff’s Dept. will help with regulating dock levels. Idaho Department of Corrections inmates will help with mowing and cleaning of restrooms – augmented by IDPR. Volunteer help will be needed for campground hosts, kiosk, and maintenance. Hells Gate will handle dock leases.

   Big Eddy Marina will add an Assistant Park Manager (.5 FTP) and two seasonal staff. Freeman Creek and Three Meadows will add an Assistant Park Manager (.5 FTP), one Seasonal Ranger, and seasonal park aides.

   Expectations were set as follows: over 130,000 fewer staff hours available statewide for customer service; less oversight available to ensure compliance with state rules, consistent business practices, etc; less restroom-park maintenance, minor maintenance; less winter “catch up” maintenance; less compliance enforcement regarding park rules/fees; less staff available for security/safety; vendors will experience delays in payment up to three weeks; less project management; less oversight on IDPR assets, i.e. water rights, properties, and more dependence on volunteers and communities.

   In a budget that has been painfully revised three times since the process began, IDPR has been given a $75,000 “spending authority” which makes it possible to reinstate Dworshak to the state park system. It was stressed that this is not real money, but spending authority which may need to be adjusted as time passes.

   The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) action added $75,000 on-going spending authority to IDPR’s FY2010 budget. The total agency spending authority was $30,703,200. The adjusted spending authority for FY2011 is $30,778,200.

   Tamara Humiston, Financial Officer, said, “The one year plan is a work in process.” She said to “Expect some adjustments along the way. Revenues, fee increases, and other ideas are being explored and implemented. We will continue to look for savings and are committed to make it work.”

   Board members extended a “Hats off to Clearwater County for figuring out how to help us.”

   Steve Stuebner, a guest speaker, has formed a private, non-profit group called Friends of Idaho Parks and Recreation (FIPR) organized to fight budget cuts, to work to increase volunteerism in state parks, and to generate long-term funding.

   The group is in the process, now, of incorporating. A Facebook fan page called Friends of Idaho State Parks already has more than 1,545 members, at this date, and it’s rapidly gaining popularity. FIPR will work to align with chambers of commerce, the Idaho Travel Council, regional travel councils, the Idaho Lodging & Restaurant Association, Idaho Innkeepers and others.

   Some of the groups which have affiliated with FIPR are:  Friends of Harriman State Park, Idaho Good Sam Club; and the Idaho Recreation Coalition, which includes the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, the Idaho ATV Association, and the Idaho Trail Machine Association.