Makoshika state park sunset

Makoshika State Park. Photo by August Schield

State Parks Funding Bill Heads for Third Reading

The blanket of snow is beginning to pull away from the hills and fields, lakes are starting to thaw and many of us are catching spring fever. Daydreams about fishing, boating and hiking pop into our brains more often than is good for our productivity at work.

As the Montana Legislators consider an opt-out $3 fee increase to ensure maintenance of our state parks, we imagine park visitors like Leigh Guest, a traveling musician toting a guitar may be itching to hit the road again. We met Leigh while she strummed a tune for us at the Pine on Rocks campsite at Makoshika State Park last summer. She told us about how her appreciation for Montana’s State Parks goes further than appreciating their natural beauty. In addition, she is grateful for the safety she feels while camping as a lone female.

Last summer, we met dozens of people who appreciate our state parks for many reasons. We also noticed how those parks need proper maintenance, which costs money.

That’s where Senator Terry Gauthier of Helena comes in. He sponsored Senate Bill 24 in order to address the backlog of maintenance projects in our parks. The bill increases the optional light-motor vehicle fee from $6 to $9 per registered vehicle. If passed, the fee would pump an additional $2 million per year into the parks division’s budget and help pay for not only our parks but also fishing access sites while creating a new trails grant program.

A revenue bill, SB 24 made it through the Senate chamber, a first reading on the House floor and out of the House Fish, Wildlife and Park Committee, its second reading on the House floor and the House Appropriations Committee. The bill has one final reading on the house floor until it goes to the Governor’s office.

A portion of the $9 opt-out fee will be used for a new trails grant program. The bill will require a small amount of general fund dollars in order to ensure that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spends the monies raises as intended.

It is important to keep the general fund balanced. SB 24 will ultimately raise a big chunk of change for the general fund. The bill’s Fiscal Note reports that in 2020 alone, the passage of the bill would add nearly $1 million to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Special Revenue Account. In 2021, it would add $2 million.

This is an optional fee increase that only applies when you reregister a car or get new license plates — not a tax increase. The bill will help remedy the unaddressed needs of our parks across the state. The opt-out fee applies when registering a vehicle, renewing tags and buying new license plates, but $9 is a steal for park visitors. Over a few years, it would raise millions for state parks, our trails, fishing access sites and our heritage towns like Virginia and Nevada Cities. It is a common-sense bill that legislators should support.

State Parks supporters can contact their legislators here.

Andie Creel

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