By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Fees paid by overnight campers at Bear Paw Lake may soon be collected by the state rather than the county.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has asked the Hill County Park Board to amend the contract between the two parties to allow FWP to charge visitors $7 for an overnight camping permit.
FWP officials said they need the money to help offset maintenance costs.
Campers now must purchase an overnight permit from the county for $6 or an annual permit for $25 to camp at Bear Paw Lake. People who use the lake during the day are not required to purchase the county permit, and that will continue under the proposed arrangement. The county permit is required for day use at all other locations in Beaver Creek Park.
The 185-acre area around Bear Paw Lake in Beaver Creek Park is managed by FWP under an easement agreement with the county. The lake is a designated state fishing access site. The agreement between FWP and the county includes a provision that prohibits FWP from charging visitors to use the area, FWP regional manager Woody Baxter said Tuesday.
Baxter met with the Hill County Park Board on Monday to discuss changing the agreement. He will draft the proposed amendment to present to the board during a meeting next month.
"Basically, it's just deleting one line," he said.
FWP spends $1.3 million annually to maintain the more than 320 fishing access sites it manages throughout the state, FWP fishing access coordinator Allan Kuser said today. The areas are leased by FWP from various local, state and federal agencies.
Late last year the department looked at possibly relinquishing control of some of the areas in order to save money, Kuser said.
"That is something that we looked at several months ago," he said. "We looked at the possibility of that for our expenses. If the other agencies were willing to take over those particular sites, then we would work with them on that. So far, we haven't really approached anyone about it."
As part of that review process, FWP decided it should begin charging a camping fee at the Bear Paw fishing access site, Baxter said.
He said the easement agreement has been a "a win-win situation."
During the last three years, FWP has made a number of improvements to the recreation area, including building a handicapped-accessible fishing platform, installing new picnic tables and fire rings at campsites, constructing new outhouses and placing better signage. The department is also responsible for road repairs and garbage removal at the site.
Future projects may include adding to the number of camping sites and building an additional fishing platform, Baxter said.
The County Park Board will consider the proposed fee change during its next regularly scheduled meeting on March 1, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said today, adding that public input is encouraged.
"They would like to do more improvements to the site, but don't feel it would be justified if they can't charge for it," he said of FWP.
If the fee change is approved, the Bear Paw fishing access site would be one of nearly 50 such sites throughout the state that charge an overnight camping fee, Kuser said. Last year the sites generated about $68,000 in revenue, he said. He acknowledged that the figure is not a huge amount of money compared to the department's expenditures, but said "every little bit helps."
"It goes back into our earned revenue account. That money is reallocated back into fishing access sites," he said. "It goes into the management of all the fishing sites throughout the state."
The average cost of maintaining one fishing access site is $2,040 annually, not including construction projects, Kuser added.
To help manage the site and enforce the camping permits, FWP will enlist the help of a volunteer "camp post," Kuser said.
"They're volunteer post positions," he said. "It operates very similar to the Forest Service. We give them water and electricity, and in exchange for providing that, they help manage the fishing access sites."
The volunteer will augment the services of the area's caretaker, Kuser said.
"We'll still have a caretaker position there," he said. "He'll still be doing the maintenance and day-to-day operations."
Having two people working at the site will help keep it clean, Kuser said.
"It provides a little better control. If somebody leaves a lot of trash and litter out there, there's someone there to help clean up right away. Generally, on a site like that, the caretaker is on a three-day schedule, so there might not be someone there every day."
Baxter said the proposed fee change will be beneficial to everyone involved.
"I feel this will be a win-win situation," Baxter said. "It will allow FWP to continue to offer a really nice recreational opportunity for the residents of Havre."