The 66th Montana Legislature passed seven bills that will help Montana State Parks.
House Bill 229: Sponsored by Brad Hamlet: Clarifies that dinosaur bones and fossils are part of surface estate or surface rights not subsurface or mineral rights. This bill makes it clear that paleontological artifacts located in state parks like Makoshika are the property of the state of Montana, not various subsurface rights owners within the parks.
House Bill 423: Sponsored by Edward Buttrey: Provides discounted state park camping opportunities for veterans across Montana.
House Bill 652: Sponsored by Mike Hopkins: Revises the long-range building infrastructure bonding program and includes approximately $1.3 million dollars for a waterline from the Makoshika State Park Visitor Center to the campground and facilities in Cains Coulee.
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House Bill 695: Sponsored by Jim Keane: Appropriates funds to Fish, Wildlife & Parks for the purchase of a permanent recreation easement at Big Arm State Park on Flathead Lake. The purchase of this recreational easement settles a decades long challenge facing state parks as they grappled with how to pay rising annual lease payments to the the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to operate Big Arm State Park. By law, DNRC is required to charge 5% of assessed property value for an annual lease of State Trust Lands in order to generate revenue for Montana's school system. State parks could no longer afford the annual lease payments as property values on Flathead Lake have dramatically increased in the past decades. By securing the funds to purchase a permanent recreational easement at the park, FWP can ensure access to Big Arm State Park and Flathead Lake in perpetuity.
Senate Bill 24: Sponsored by Terry Gauthier: Provides for a modest increase in the optional Light Motor Vehicle registration fee that benefits state parks, fishing access sites, historic preservation, and trails-based recreation across Montana. The optional fee currently provides nearly 40% of the annual operating revenue that state parks rely on. The increase of $3 per vehicle will still allow Montanans to access one of the largest state parks systems in the country (55 parks) and 332 fishing access sites without having to worry about paying fees at the park while also providing beneficial funds for trails and historic preservation. By 2021 the fee is expected to raise an additional $2 million a year.
Senate Bill 70: Sponsored by Pat Flowers: Removes Missouri Headwaters State Park from the "primitive parks" designation. Removing Missouri Headwaters from the "primitive parks" list is a critical first step in allowing park managers to be more proactive in managing growing demand for recreational opportunities, addressing environmental impacts, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and ensuring historic preservation at park.
Senate Bill 338: Sponsored by Terry Gauthier: Provides funding for construction of the Montana Heritage Center, the new home for the Montana Historical Society. After the Montana Heritage Center is completed in 2025, 6.5% of the 1% bed-tax increase passed as a part of the bill would go to state parks to provide critical funding for park maintenance, staffing, and visitor services.