Life Imitating Art—and Parks

Scrolling through clips of state news, I happened on the latest from Idaho:

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation is launching a new program that allows vehicle owners to voluntarily pay a $10 fee when they register their cars that gives them access to 30 state parks in an effort to raise money for the embattled agency.

Director Nancy Merrill hopes the idea, modeled after a successful program in Michigan, will alleviate financial pressure on her agency that has been mounting since Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter moved to wean it from taxpayer support two years ago.

A few years ago, I probably wouldn't have cared much what the Idaho Parks and Recreation units were doing. However, that was before I became an avid viewer of the television show Parks and Recreation. Devotees will remember that at the end of the second season, the city of Pawnee, Indiana was in dire economic straights and the Parks and Recreation Department was in trouble. Leslie Knope, heroine of both the show and my heart, was fighting to keep her agency. In the course of the fight, her then-enemy-with-whom-she-has-sexual-tension, the accountant Ben Wyatt, tells her that the Parks Department must sustain deep cuts. 

"Idaho cut their parks department by 80 percent," he tells her. "And Idaho is basically one giant park." I assumed this was just some writers having fun with pretty Midwestern states.

But it turns out it's true! Idaho governor C.L. "Butch" Otter (a name made for television) cut state support by 80 percent in 2010, with the idea that the Parks Department will eventually receive no government support. A paid parks pass is Merrill's attempt to start bringing in more cash. She's also asking all 30 parks across the state to find new revenue opportunities, like frisbee golf to help cover basic maintenance costs.

The idea of Idaho without state parks is pretty bleak. And unlike in television sitcoms, I doubt that everything can be resolved with a Harvest Fest and a little horse. Though I really wish that was how things worked.

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