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Idaho state parks draw crowds, dollars despite budget cuts

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BOISE, Idaho — Attendance at state parks has reached record numbers this summer, just five years after Gov. Butch Otter proposed shutting down Idaho's parks department.

State funding for parks in Idaho is less than half of what it was in 2006, as shown by smaller staffs, needed repairs and fewer services, but programs remain sustainable, The Spokesman-Review reported (http://bit.ly/1CfTYl6 ).

"Everybody predicted we'd have to close down parks," Otter said, noting that all he actually wanted in 2010 was to "do more with less — and by golly, the Idaho folks did it."

Fees are charged at nearly all parks, with few exceptions, and Parks Director David Langhorst said a new passport program, which allows unlimited use of all state parks for a year without the $5 daily vehicle entry fee, has brought in $1.2 million in gross revenue this year.

The passport program costs $10 for Idaho residents and $40 for nonresidents.

"It's a screaming deal," Langhorst said, noting some parks pay for themselves but others can't.

The Old Mission State Park in Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho isn't self-sustaining but has a remarkable history. Intended to echo the grand cathedrals of Italy, it was completed in 1853 by Jesuits and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe using local materials and has a ceiling stained blue with huckleberries.

"I have been in the mission when people walk in that door and they just start crying," Park Manager Kathleen Durfee said. "It's just amazing the effect the building has on some people."

In another money-generating move, Idaho lawmakers earlier this year approved corporate sponsorships within Idaho parks. Langhorst said he's hoping to bring in several hundred thousand dollars a year with that program.

Besides Idaho, budget cuts have forced other states, including Washington, to consider closing parks over the past decade, though few actually did.

Lewis Ledford, executive director of the National Association of State Park Directors, said state parks enjoy wide support.

"If citizens have a chance to vote to support funds for their parks, it's overwhelmingly being popularly endorsed," he said.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

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