Nearly half of Idaho’s 82,000 registered powerboats are in the five northernmost counties, and Idaho’s rate of fatal boating accidents is four times the national average.
That’s why the state Department of Parks and Recreation wants to station a new boating safety person in Coeur d’Alene.
“This is an extremely important position,” Parks Director Yvonne Ferrell told the Legislature’s budget committee Wednesday.
Because federal money is available to cover the cost, the prospects look good. Gov. Phil Batt included the position in his proposed budget for the coming year, and lawmakers raised no objections Wednesday.
But Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, said after the budget hearing that he needs more information about what the new person would do before he decides whether to support the plan.
According to budget documents, more than $100,000 in federal funds would cover the worker, a vehicle, two personal watercraft and production costs for a boating safety guidebook.
The state parks department is seeing lots of people using its facilities across the state, but money has been tight to provide services to all those visitors.
The department is turning increasingly to fees and revenue-generating operations like rental cabins, yurts and teepees. Ferrell said it may consider putting in some rental cabins at Priest Lake.
Other North Idaho elements of Ferrell’s budget presentation included:
The department has secured a $180,000 grant to repair flood damage to the Coeur d’Alene Parkway, the linear, lakefront park that continues the Centennial Trail east of Coeur d’Alene. But 25 percent in matching funds is required.
Ferrell said the department has a $20,000 commitment from AT&T;, and some small pledges from local groups, but still is short nearly $25,000. “We’ve had to stop everything,” Ferrell said, until that additional money is found. “We’re fearful that if we get winter storms this year, it will erode further.”
The budget committee could earmark money for the project when it sets the parks budget in coming weeks.
Costs to operate Priest Lake State Park are skyrocketing. Garbage fees alone have gone from $4,700 in 1993 to $12,188 in 1997. Electricity bills are up from $5,200 to $8,500 in the same period.
Ferrell said the governor’s recommendation to grant a 2.6 percent budget increase to cover inflationary costs is crucial for the parks department to handle such increases. In four of the past five years, the budget committee has ignored the governor’s recommendation, and set the inflation factor at zero.
Idaho could be using volunteers to do a variety of work in state parks, but the department has no one to plan or coordinate such efforts. Ferrell told the committee that Harriet Steele, director of the North Idaho visitor center, will spend part of her time in the coming year starting a volunteer program.
“If this is successful, we will probably be back next year to ask you for a position to do this full-time,” Ferrell said.
In Oregon, volunteers have been organized to do the work of the equivalent of 242 full-time employees in that state’s parks. “We’re missing a lot there,” Ferrell said.
State parks board member Bob Haakenson of Kootenai County praised Steele for expressing interest in the program. “She does a very good job of securing volunteers at the visitor center,” he said.