Governor Removes Chairman of Parks and Recreation Board

State parks system is important in driving $298 million in direct spending and supports about 1,600 jobs each year

By Dillon Tabish
Amy Grout, park manager of the Flathead Lake State Park unit, explains the various sections of Wild Horse Island to Jeff Welch, a member on the Montana State Parks and Recreation board, and Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office during a tour on March 1, 2016. Benitez, Welch and others toured state parks on Flathead Lake as part of the state parks agency's multi-day conference in Kalispell identifying new trends and needs in Montana’s outdoors. Dillon Tabish | Flathead Beacon

HELENA — Montana’s governor has removed the chairman of the State Parks and Recreation Board, asked the vice chairwoman to resign and directed the new board to focus on the long-term sustainability of the state park system.

In a memo released Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock charged the director of the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the new board to develop a “Parks in Focus” initiative to identify ways to address the park system’s financial, operational and cultural challenges.

Bullock said in the memo that for at least a decade there has been a perception that parks were less important than fish and wildlife, which he says has led to “acrimony and mistrust.”

Some board members supported a bill during the 2017 Legislature that called for a separate Parks Division with a director appointed by the board. The governor vetoed the bill.

Bullock said it was time to put those issues in the past and work together.

“Through our efforts, we can identify solutions for the State Parks system that address core challenges head on, rather than seeking alternative administrative arrangements that both fail to confront fundamental issues of concern and lack capacity and resources to pursue emerging opportunities,” Bullock wrote.

The state parks system is important in driving $298 million in direct spending and supports about 1,600 jobs each year.

Board chairman Tom Towe tells The Billings Gazette that he rejected the governor’s request that he resign. He said state law says he cannot be terminated without cause and a formal hearing.

Vice chairwoman Mary Sexton resigned at the governor’s request.

“I think he just wanted to start fresh,” said Sexton, who also supported having a separate Parks Division director.

The board members are now Chairwoman Angie Grove of Helena along with The Base Camp owner Scott Brown of Billings; former legislator and educator Mary Sheehy Moe of Great Falls; Betty Stone of Glasgow, a co-owner of the Cottonwood Inn; and Jeff Welch of Livingston, a member of the Montana State Parks Foundation and owner of a marketing agency. Welch is the only holdover member.

Bullock asked the board to recommend nominees to a new Parks In Focus Commission that will advise the board.

The board’s next meeting hasn’t been set. The governor last week canceled a board meeting that had been scheduled to be held in Billings.

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