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Montana State Parks to Electrify?

March 24, 2008 by   - () Leave a Comment

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) officials are considering plans to electrify campsites at four state parks in western Montana later this year.
Critics say the proposals don’t jibe with Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s initiative to cut back on the state’s energy consumption, according to the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune. Other opponents of the idea say that if the improvements are made, the state will compete with private businesses.
Former legislator and outgoing Public Service Commissioner Bob Raney sharply criticized FWP’s plans to electrify campsites at Salmon Lake, West Shore, Placid Lake and Lewis & Clark Caverns state parks in an interview last week. Raney, who fought in the Legislature throughout the 1990s to keep development of the parks at bay, said the proposals send the wrong message about energy conservation, would increase the state’s maintenance costs and electricity bills and eventually would lead to higher user fees.
Others critics of the plan are less concerned about energy than they are about their bottom line.
Sonny Huckaba’s family owns the Cardwell Store and Campground seven miles from Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park. Last season, the private campground charged $22.50 per night for campers to stay at one of its 32 sites, each with electric and water hookups. Huckaba said he’s considering changing his rates depending on what happens at the nearby state park. FWP’s planned improvements would have a negative impact on his business, he said, because it would draw customers away from his campground in favor of the less expensive, state-owned option.
“In the summer, when the temperature is up, and even in the springtime, campers like to have electricity so they can run their air conditioners or heaters or whatever else,” Huckaba said. “In my opinion, the state of Montana is going to be in direct competition with the private sector.”
Huckaba said that unlike a state park, he is a taxpayer who has to carefully manage his bottom line. That could become difficult if he’s forced to compete with state-owned campsites offering similar amenities just a few miles down the road, he said.
“The state doesn’t have to show a profit to stay in business,” Huckaba said. “Let’s say I get $25 per night, and the state park takes 10 people away from me. That’s $250 a night. Over the course of the summertime, you figure 150 days, that’s a pretty good chunk of change.”
Racene Friede, the executive director of Glacier Country Montana — northwestern Montana’s regional tourism bureau — said tourism is the state’s No. 2 industry, and RV camping plays a large part in that.
“RVing, in particular, is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry,” Friede said. “I can’t see why there would be any problem with (electrification). To tell you the truth, I think anything to support making amenities a little easier for people to get out and enjoy our wonderful nature is a good idea.”
The electrification plans cite the rising popularity and prevalence of RVs as a major factor in FWP’s decision to move forward with the projects.

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