Senate Bill 24, a bill increasing the optional light motor vehicle registration fee for parks and recreation, appears to be headed for approval by the Senate. It would then be taken up by the House. The bill would increase the optional fee from the current $6 fee to a $9 fee.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Terry Gauthier, a Republican from Helena, apportions the funds raised by the fee between state parks, fishing access sites and community trails and recreation. Out of every $9 fee collected, $6.74 would go to funding the state’s parks, that’s up from $5.37 under the current $6 fee. The amount going to FWP for spending on Fishing Access Sites would double from the current $.25 to $.50. A newly established trails and recreation facilities fund would get $1.37, and the Montana Heritage Preservation and Development account used for the operation of facilities at Virginia City and Nevada City would get $.39.
Angie Grove, Chair of the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board, said that she is hopeful the bill meets final approval in the Senate, where it has passed already. A third and final reading was scheduled for Monday, March 11.
According to Grove, it has been a long time since the state parks have seen any sort of increase in funding, although use of state park lands and facilities continues to grow. She said there are ongoing costs related to maintaining the lands, like weed control and pest control and facility maintenance, that keep going up as well as the cost of inflation.
Grove called the bill “a really good opportunity for small towns like Stevensville where you have a conglomeration of all these components.” She said there was a state park there, a Fishing Access Site, and river trails, all of which could use these maintenance funds. She called Stevensville “the prime example of the kind of community that we want to help out.”
Grove said that the proposal was originally brought up by a group called the Montana Trails Coalition, organized by retired FWP employee Bob Walker. She said the group had a really broad representation from motor vehicle users and non-motorized users, OHV users and hikers, from all around the state. Grove said this funding was really important for state parks and fishing access sites but that the group working on trails has been the group really pushing hard for this legislation.
Another bill that may impact state parks, she said, was SB 70, a bill designed to address certain issues with the Headwaters State Park. That park, she said, is designated as a “primitive” park. But there is strong public interest in establishing a canoe camp and a bicycle camp within the park. SB 70 would remove the “primitive” designation and allow the development of the camp sites.