Montana Won't Give Up Park Management Role
Montana State Parks officials have reversed themselves after a flood of public comments and will no longer support a plan to relinquish management of Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, the Billings Gazette reported.
But the budget woes that led the parks division to propose turning over the site near Three Forks remain.
"The park system needs support. We do have some hard questions to answer as to how we move the park system forward," division administrator Chas Van Genderen said Tuesday (Feb. 5).
American Indians from various tribes used the site to herd buffalo along a path and off a sheer cliff to kill the animals for food and tools. Tepee rings and bones have been excavated at the base of the cliff by archaeologists.
The parks division had proposed to turn over the site to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) due to money problems that had already forced the department to give up at least three other properties in the past three years.
Madison Buffalo Jump was targeted after the DNRC, which owns most of the site, asked the parks division to pay $4,272, with a slight increase each year, to satisfy that agency's legal requirement to make money from its state trust lands.
The parks division says the site costs $15,192 a year to maintain and only brings in $1,839 in annual revenue, so the parks division proposed instead to forgo management control.
The agency put the proposal out for public comment and received 175 individual comments opposed to relinquishing management, with another 40 people signing petitions against the idea.
Only three comments were in favor of the plan to turn over control to the DNRC, while 14 others did not specify a position.
"As a cultural site it is important to Native peoples, it's important to educators who bring school groups there and it is an important place as a recreational destination," Van Genderen said.
Several commenters offered solutions on how to bring in additional money to maintain the park, he said, from establishing a foundation to partnering with American Indian tribes.
The division will present its new recommendation to keep management of the park when the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission (FWP) meets Feb. 14.
Van Genderen said there currently are no other proposals to relinquish park properties.
One proposal aimed at directing more attention toward the struggling parks division recently passed the state House and is now being considered in the Senate. It would create a separate board to oversee state parks and recreation while keeping the parks division as part of the FWP agency.
Supporters say such a board would prevent the parks division from being overshadowed by other FWP commission's duties, such as wolf and bison management.
Van Genderen said the agency supports the bill.