As the long days of summer get into full swing, Montanans and visitors alike have begun to reconnect with our state parks, our one-of-a-kind outdoor recreation experiences, and the cultural treasures that define our state.
Recently, I visited a crew of middle school students who spent one of the first weeks of their summer break instilling a lifelong dedication to our outdoors. As part of Montana Conservation Corps’ youth program, these students were introduced to conservation early, in a hands-on, dirt-in-the-fingernails way, by digging trails and expanding public access sites.
Our future leaders understand that working now to protect Montana’s clean air, clean water and public lands will benefit Montanans for decades to come. So, too, do our state’s current leaders.
This summer, it’s worth pausing to acknowledge the bipartisan accomplishments of the past year to reinvest in our future by stabilizing management of our state parks and expanding access to our public lands.
Last year, I launched the Parks in Focus Commission and directed the commission to lay out a vision to address the pressures our parks have wrestled with for decades from growing visitation and stagnant resources for management and visitor service needs. Already, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is making great progress to enhance coordination, improve management and financial accountability, and build a foundation for success. They have developed a new approach to prioritizing the investment needs of our state parks, ensuring all parks are on a path to meet and exceed standards of excellence. Our 55 state parks are some of our state’s greatest treasures and we need to treat them that way.
After the Parks in Focus Commission identified opportunities to offer a more stable and secure future for the parks, legislators delivered in the 2019 session. We implemented a modest and optional increase in the light motor vehicle registration fee that will provide up to $2 million a year in new resources to support state parks, fishing access sites, and trails across our state over the coming years.
We also invested in the long-overdue infrastructure needs of our prized state parks. Nearly $1.3 million in infrastructure funding will go to Makoshika State Park to connect the Visitor Center waterlines to the campground and facilities in a popular part of the park, and perhaps more importantly, contribute to the long-held goals of the city of Glendive to attract and sustain visitors and tourism dollars in the community.
We got funding to secure the long-term protection of Big Arm State Park on Flathead Lake, freeing resources to address other needs at one of the most visited park areas of the state. We are addressing constraints at Missouri Headwaters State Park. Park managers are developing an infrastructure plan that will meet visitor needs, while safeguarding historical, cultural, and environmental resources and attracting those traveling between Montana’s two national parks each year.
Other legislative efforts will contribute to funding some of the longer-term park maintenance needs, staffing, and visitor services, and will expand opportunities for access for our state’s active service and retired military members. We also cut the red tape around community service projects so those who serve with AmeriCorps, like Montana Conservation Corps, can provide an increased benefit to the state and our lands.
Montanans have reason to celebrate our outdoors this summer. Montana families and visitors have planned their summer adventures and are ready to enjoy what our state parks have to offer. They will do so knowing both our current and future leaders are committed to the responsibility to protect and enhance the world-class resources and opportunities we are blessed to share.
Steve Bullock is the Democratic governor of Montana.