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Park lovers help keep ‘em open

The Brother Speed motorcycle club is among volunteers stepping forward to help maintain Idaho state parks in the wake of deep budget cuts, reports AP reporter Simmi Aujla. The biker group is working to maintain Thousand Springs, a state park near Hagerman where it’s held its annual Memorial Day gathering for 35 years. “This week, the agency started charging fees at two Thousand Springs units that had been free to the public for decades,” Aujla reports. “The park’s rangers insist they will do everything they can to stay open for visitors who come to enjoy the region’s breathtaking gorges, canyons and rivers. Brother Speed is helping. Last month, nine bikers sporting black leather jackets adorned with the group’s logo, a grinning skull, planted 75 blazing maples in a corner of Thousand Springs. They worked alongside college students, a Mormon group and a square dancing club.”

Click below to read her full report.


Motorcycle group races to rescue of Idaho parks
By SIMMI AUJLA, Associated Press Writer

HAGERMAN, Idaho (AP) — For each of the past 35 years, hundreds of motorcyclists have descended on a secluded canyon tucked among dairies and sugarbeet farms to celebrate war veterans, their bikes and Idaho’s breathtaking outdoors.

Around Memorial Day every year, members of the Brother Speed Motorcycle Club roar past water pouring from lavarock walls, and crowd onto a field by the winding Snake River.

When they learned the canyon might be closed to the public because of Idaho’s budget problems, they rallied, surprising administrators and community members in a state where authorities consider them an outlaw gang and joining volunteers nationwide in efforts to save cash-strapped public parks.

They rolled up their sleeves, exposing their tattoos, to help plant dozens of trees in one corner of the park. They’ll take a break from their motorcycles once a week this summer to guide lawn mowers instead across the familiar pastures.

“It’s like a home to us,” said Todd Sellman, a Boise electrician who’s organizing volunteers to maintain the 10-acre grassy area known as Niagara Springs. From California to Vermont, parks fans like Brother Speed are objecting to plans to shutter state parks.

Pressure on lawmakers, who must balance those demands with health care and public education needs, has contributed to scaled back closure plans in California, Washington, New Jersey and elsewhere.

Advocates have written letters to lawmakers, hailing parks as a cheap source of fun for families during the recession.

In California, for example, volunteers are gathering signatures for an initiative that would allow the state to levy a surcharge on vehicle license fees to support natural sights. Arizona has already closed down parks, but people there are still writing thousand-dollar checks to keep their favorite park open.

Like other Idaho parks, Thousand Springs State Park is forced to do with less in fiscal year 2011 to meet Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s request that the Parks Department operate without state money by 2012.

Parks agencies in other states have attempted to operate without state funds, but none have succeeded.

To deal with the 80 percent cut in state spending for next year, the Idaho agency proposed closing Thousand Springs, which has lost $1.1 million over the last four years. But officials changed their mind after public outcry from some of the 223,000 people who visit the park each year.

This week, the agency started charging fees at two Thousand Springs units that had been free to the public for decades. The park’s rangers insist they will do everything they can to stay open for visitors who come to enjoy the region’s breathtaking gorges, canyons and rivers.

Brother Speed is helping.

Last month, nine bikers sporting black leather jackets adorned with the group’s logo, a grinning skull, planted 75 blazing maples in a corner of Thousand Springs. They worked alongside college students, a Mormon group and a square dancing club.

When Brother Speed formed in the late 1960s, the annual Memorial Day retreats were held in places like the Hells Canyon national recreation area and the small resort town of McCall. But as the parties grew, the club sought bigger spaces.

In 1974, it decided to move to Niagara Springs because the canyon was large enough to accommodate a few hundred bikers and their families.

Park rangers say the bikers have always treated the campground with respect, at one point paying to install new wiring to play music on bigger speakers. The only dustup occurred several years ago when rangers stepped in to stop the bikers from tearing up the turf near the campsite.

“I already had the park ranger tell me, don’t hotrod the lawn mower,” said Kimmer Andrew, 58, one of the group’s founding members.

Sellman acknowledged that to those unfamiliar with motorcycle groups, Brother Speed’s passion for the park may seem unexpected.

The state’s corrections department, though, says the criminal records of some Brother Speed members merit calling the group a gang. State records show seven club members are currently incarcerated in Idaho prisons or on parole, the majority for convictions involving possession or trafficking meth.

Sellman said law enforcement has labeled Brother Speed as a gang unfairly, and that means the public thinks the club encourages its members to break laws. The group’s name, which members say refers to the speed of motorcycles rather than slang for meth, may also contribute to its tough image.

“Society as a whole can have a pretty negative view of somebody on a motorcycle,” Sellman said. “They lump us all in with street gangs.”

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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