Montana Parks and Recreation Board tackles 75-year-old issue

2013-08-29T08:09:00Z 2013-09-04T15:01:06Z Montana Parks and Recreation Board tackles 75-year-old issueBy EVE BYRON Independent Record The Billings Gazette
August 29, 2013 8:09 am  • 

HELENA — Members of the newly formed Montana State Parks and Recreation Board learned Wednesday about a couple of weighty matters they’ll face, including how to compensate a different state agency for school trust lands within state parks.

Two items on Wednesday’s agenda involved what’s been an issue for close to 75 years, but was only brought up in a 2008 legislative audit -- how to compensate the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for land interspersed among state parks.

Parks Division Administrator Chas Van Genderen noted that at least five state parks include DNRC land. Under state law and Montana’s constitution, the DNRC must be compensated at fair market value for the use of school trust lands. Those proceeds are distributed among state schools.

But Van Genderen said that at two of those parks -- the Lewis and Clark Caverns and Thompson Falls -- appraisals put the value of the state lands at upwards of $1.1 million if FWP were to purchase the property. That includes $499,000 for 36 acres at the Thompson Falls park and $640,000 for 640 acres in the middle of the Lewis and Clark Caverns.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” board member and former DNRC Director Mary Sexton said. “With DNRC and trust lands, you pay for what you get. You can negotiation the acreage, but an appraisal is an appraisal and it’s clearly mandated that you need to pay a fair price for any rights.

“… Funding may be a challenge.”

Along with Sexton, who is from Choteau, other board members appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock include Diane Conradi of Whitefish, Jeff Welch of Livingston, Tom Towe of Billings and Doug Smith of Dagmar.

The five-member board first met on Tuesday to for an orientation session with various Montana State Parks staff, including Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Jeff Hagener. He will serve as secretary to the board, similar to his position for the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

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