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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Merrill: ‘Rec is big business for Idaho’

Idaho's state parks department took a 17 percent cut in general funds in fiscal year 2009, and a 56 percent cut with the fy 2010 holdbacks, state Parks Director Nancy Merrill told JFAC. Now, she said, "We have proposed that we begin the process of weaning ourselves from the general fund. ... This will not be easy, and it will be painful, but our board and our staff have agreed that it can be done." Part of the move involves tapping $2 million a year for up to five years from RV registration funds that otherwise would have gone to grants for capital projects to serve RV users, Merrill said. Parks will use the money to operate parks that directly serve RV users; a citizen advisory committee for the RV account has unanimously approved the move.

"Recreation is big business for Idaho, and local economies are the benefactors," Merrill told lawmakers. A state Commerce Department study found that state parks visitors contributed $40 million to the economy of rural Idaho, "in addition to sales taxes collected," Merrill said. But, she said, "A state park's value is more than just economic." It's "a quality of life," she said.

Budget cuts forced the parks department to look for "alternative management" of some parks, Merrill said. "We are very close today to an agreement with the county commissioners" for operation of now-closed Dworshak State Park, Merrill said. She said she's also exploring alternative management arrangements for Thousand Springs and Yankee Fork.

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.