A longtime member of the Idaho Parks and Recreation Board told lawmakers she will follow the new plan to reduce state funding and staff, as well as seek out more public/private partnerships to keep parks open.
Democrat Jean McDevitt of Pocatello has served on the park board since 1997, and was reappointed last year by Gov. Butch Otter to another six-year term. Members of a Senate panel used her reconfirmation hearing to make sure she’s on board with the changes.
“Economic times are very, very difficult,” Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, told McDevitt and lawmakers. “So I have every confidence that the board is going to work together as a team with the director to see us through these tough times in a very efficient manner.” Schroeder has introduced a plan to strip the park board’s power and make it merely advisory. He’s said he will only go forward with that plan if the board doesn’t go along with park director Nancy Merrill’s proposed changes. McDevitt indicated that she supports Merrill’s changes.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, voiced concern about expanding partnerships with private companies to keep parks open. “I’m a little leery of what that could mean,” he told McDevitt. “Once you start taking money from people they start telling you should and shouldn’t do…. In essence it comes down to how far you are willing to go to leverage our parks.” He said didn’t want to see Idaho’s parks turning into Disneyland.
McDevitt said she wants Merrill to find more partnerships, saying they could come from cities and counties as well as private businesses. “I am not really greatly enthusiastic about having ‘Welcome to Cascade State Park, sponsored by Pepsi or Nike,” she said. “That’s a little farther than I want to go… but I think we’re willing to look at these kinds of things.” McDevitt said some parks are already partnering, including a snowmobile grooming partnership at Bear Lake State Park near St. Charles in southeastern Idaho. McDevitt said those kinds of connections could be expanded. “If a car dealership wants to donate a little money to help a trail or snowmobile grooming, there’s some way we could do that and have them get recognition for it.”
Director Merrill said she also doesn’t want to sell naming right to parks, but could let private companies operate concession stands or campgrounds. “We certainly don’t want to commercialize our parks,” she said. “We’re trying to be a little more creative in our thinking.” She said she will have to work with the park board to come up with rules for private/public partnerships across the state.
Werk also asked McDevitt if state parks can survive over the long haul without state funding. “I don’t see for us being able to care for our state parks’ infrastructure without general funds,” he said.
“When I see a sign entering our park and it says “Idaho State Park” ... I feel the state of Idaho puts their name on something, they have an obligation to be proud of it also,” McDevitt said. She said state parks can make do without state funding for several years. “We can hold on for quite a while. We’re hoping the economy turns around. We’re hoping that we will get some people that really want to help us, whether it’s counties, cities or other organizations. We hope the state of Idaho will do that also.”