Idaho has spent more than $1 million to build a public parkway along the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene east of town, but Gov. Phil Batt’s budget for the coming year doesn’t include any money to maintain it.
The state Department of Parks and Recreation requested $136,200 to maintain the bike and walking paths, beach and fishing areas, picnic shelters and vault toilets, parking lots and exercise stations. But the governor’s budget calls for zero funding.
Batt doesn’t want to expand the state budget with new ongoing costs, said spokeswoman Amy Kleiner.
On Thursday, Parks Department Director Yvonne Ferrell told the Legislature’s budget committee that the parkway, along the former Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive, is the largest stretch of Lake Coeur d’Alene that is open to the public.
“It is absolutely gorgeous,” she said. “It has been getting use that is unbelievable, just in the short time it’s been finished. In good weather, there are thousands of people out there.”
The Parks Department received money from the Transportation Department to maintain the parkway during the construction phase, but that funding has ended.
Ferrell said the Parks Department, by working “extremely frugally,” has saved about $30,000 for emergencies. That might help maintain the trail with a part-time ranger and some seasonal help in the coming year, she said, but it probably won’t be enough.
The powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which sets the state budget, doesn’t include a single member from the Panhandle. So when committee members questioned Ferrell, they didn’t address the parkway issue.
A lawmaker from Ashton, Idaho, asked about a rails-to-trails project there. A southeastern Idaho lawmaker asked about a state park in his region.
Finally, the co-chairwoman of the committee, Rep. Kitty Gurnsey, R-Boise, asked why there was no money for maintaining the Coeur d’Alene park. “Will the city or county take it over?” she asked.
Ferrell said the land is owned by the Transportation Department, which wants to keep it in a single ownership to make sure it stays open.
“We are trying to find money,” she said. “We’ve just got to find a way to keep it going.”
Gurnsey said, “It’s obvious to me that it’s a wonderful facility and somebody’s got to be involved in taking care of it. …. It’s a real question now where we’re going to get some more dollars.”
Dean Van Engelen, Batt’s budget chief, said of the governor’s reasoning, “We’re not in the process of expanding the park system at this point. And we’re trying to discourage the Transportation Department from starting these projects and building them and then just expecting parks to take them over.”
In this case, the park’s already open.
Bob Haakenson, a former Kootenai County commissioner who represents North Idaho on the state parks board, said the county and area cities went together to set up an account to maintain the other end of the Centennial Trail, which runs from the Washington border to Coeur d’Alene. But it’s cheaper to maintain because it doesn’t have the toilets or other features of the new parkway east of town.
Gurnsey said after the budget presentation that she might support some state dollars to maintain the parkway, but only if local groups such as the city, county, civic organizations or volunteers, agree to help.
“There should be some kind of local interest,” she said. “We need a little show of cooperation that maybe it isn’t just a state problem.”
Haakenson said he planned to contact northern lawmakers and local officials to try to put something together. “I don’t think it’s too late.”
Without proper maintenance, Haakenson said, “That facility will go downhill in a big hurry.”
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MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.
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