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State parks plan to sell more Idaho-made goods

Sun., March 20, 2011

BOISE — The Department of Parks and Recreation is trying to find more ways for visitors to take home a piece of Idaho at park gift shops filled with sweets, soaps and other goods made in the state instead of trinkets and candies from elsewhere.

Agency leaders approached the organization Buy Idaho four months ago with a plan to replace imported items at parks that have retail outlets with goods made in Idaho cities and towns.

Some of the park shops already stock popular Idaho goods, like jams and sauces made with north Idaho huckleberries or potato gimmicks. But agency spokeswoman Jennifer Blazek says parks are a perfect spot to promote Idaho goods and products.

“We have an opportunity here to showcase quality Idaho products, and we thought (retail shops in parks) would be the perfect venue to do that,” Blazek told the Idaho Statesman.

Idaho’s 18 parks report between 2.3 million and 2.7 million visits annually, with about 33 percent of those visits from nonresident tourists. With operations budgets topping $13 million, the parks also carry more buying power for entrepreneurs than smaller retail shops and boutiques.

The project could mean more revenue for small Idaho companies like Idaho Candy Co. in Boise. President Dave Wagers, who is also board president of Buy Idaho, said it’s a good strategy to keep money in the state rather than exporting dollars elsewhere.

The agency and vendors are working to identify products that could have statewide appeal or be tailored to a single park. There are also issues about shipping and distribution.

Park officials are encouraging buyers to chase down more leads on local vendors. So far, at least one park manager has placed an order. Jodi Vincent, assistant manager at Harriman State Park in eastern Idaho, wanted a product to replace soaps made in Montana.

Vincent discovered Nature’s Country Soaps, a Coeur d’Alene company that started as a hobby for owner Debbie Gordon.

Vincent’s order was the biggest she’d received at one time, Gordon said. She intends to make a special aspen-scented soap just for Harriman State Park.

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