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Tight Budget Spurs Talk of State Park Fee Increase

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The cost of camping at state parks could be going up.

The Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks wants to increase camping fees for the first time since 2002, and received tentative approval Thursday from its commission to seek public comment on the proposal.

The plan would increase the base cost of camping from $15 to $18. The agency said the increase is consistent with inflation over the last eight years.

Parks Division administrator Chas Van Genderen said the agency is very worried about putting too high a price on the overnight stays. But he said the agency must demonstrate to the Legislature and others that it is trying to help itself during tight budget times.

“We don’t want to price customers out, but we also don’t want to lay off staff,” Van Genderen said.

The $3 increase would raise an extra $120,000 for the agency.

Van Genderen said that over the long term, the agency may look at pricing that charges more for prime spots on Flathead Lake and lower pricing in less popular locations.

He said the agency is planning to continue improvements at the parks and that popular boat slip rentals at lake campgrounds could be expanded.

The agency is also looking into cheaper walk-in camping with minimal services at its larger parks, hoping to offer a more primitive experience for those who want it. That plan includes an 18-mile hiking route at Makoshika State Park in the badlands of eastern Montana, near Glendive.

The agency is also doing more marketing with RV campers through retailers and trade shows, to promote camping at state parks.

At the same time, the agency is seeking to use $2.6 million to build a new park at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers, which is being cleaned and restored after the removal of the Milltown dam and mining waste.

The agency said the park will be a treasure on a site previously contaminated with pollution.

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