Fiscal health and sustainability are key to the long-term success of the state parks and recreation programs.
But the system is underfunded.
Montana has more parks than any other state in the Rocky Mountain region yet we spend less on parks than most of the states. Additionally, the average neighboring state has 120 full-time employees. Montana has 65 permanent employees.
This challenge is not new
Twenty-five years of reports prepared for the Montana Legislature have documented that the park system has been consistently underfunded and understaffed–a systemic problem since the system was established in 1939. The State Park Futures Committee I (1990) and the State Park Futures Committee II (2002) both recommended to the Legislature additional funding for the park system of upwards $6 million a year, as well as additional staffing. And yet since the 1970s, the real spending power of the Division budget has only increased $1.4 million.
The challenges the system faces today are not new, but the need to address them has come to a critical point.
Montana’s state parks do not benefit from general fund monies or from hunting and fishing license dollars for day-to-day operations and management.
Since 2004, the largest source of funding for the park system is the optional $6 vehicle registration fee. With this, we are able to provide free park entrance for Montana residents to all state parks.
But current revenues fall short as expenditures and cost of operations continue to grow. Funding is paramount to protecting the health and safety of visitors and staff, as well as supporting the maintenance and stewardship of Montana’s outdoor resources. Critical park infrastructure such as an adequate fire protection system for Bannack–the state’s first territorial capital–and an updated electrical system for Lewis & Clark Caverns are examples of needs that have gone unmet for years.