A state agency representative said Monday that the county might need to reconsider a day-use fee for Beaver Creek Park if it means charging people twice to fish.
Tom Flowers, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 6 regional manager in Glasgow, told the Hill County Park Board that FWP stocks fish in waters open to the public, with the stocking paid for through fishing license fees. If someone charges for access to the fishing site, FWP cannot stock the waters, he said.
"That's where we're kind of in a bind right now. We want to keep stocking, don't get me wrong ... ," Flowers said. "We could get in a little trouble if it's perceived that, these are public waters, people that pay for their fishing license are expecting to come up here and fish for free ... and yet they get charged a daily use fee ... .
"We're just trying to work through that," Flowers added, "to see what sort of agreement we can come to, somehow, to keep all this working like it is."
Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said the park also includes campgrounds, roads, outhouses, parking areas, and so on.
"So we have some expenses too, that some of these fishermen may or may not partake in the use of ... ," he said. "So, we, too, also have some investment in this. ... It isn't just the water."
Flowers said the situation at Beaver Creek, where a day-use fee is charged for access, might be unique in the state. Other areas with public waters, like state parks or state land, might charge a fee for camping but not for day use like fishing.
Flowers said the issue has been highlighted in recent years by increased fees for use of the park.
In a period of declining revenue - including the county seeing a nearly million-dollar loss in natural gas revenue as exploration and production has dropped off - the county commission has asked that nonessential services, including the park, the fair and the county museum, move to become self-sufficient.
Beaver Creek Park has revamped its fee schedule over the last few years, and receives no county tax revenue. Its fees include a $50 fee to residents of Hill, Blaine, Chouteau and Liberty counties for an annual permit or $75 to out-of-area people for the annual permit or $10 a day for daily permits.
Flowers said the increase to day-use fees has brought to light the fact that people have to pay to gain access to waters stocked by FWP.
He said that if FWP had a way to help with roads and so on it would - it can help private landowners with expenses in maintaining public water stocked by the agency. But the money only is there for private landowners, he said.
"We know you have impacts," Flowers said. "We would like to help with those impacts, we're just not quite sure how were going to direct the money yet, or would it be money, would it be assistance, would it be another person on the ground."
FWP Fisheries Manager Steve Dalbey added that the agency understands that the cost of stocking fish and the cost of maintaining a site are separate. He said he doesn't want people to get the impression that FWP thinks that because people buy a fishing license they should get free access to the park.
"We have sites, too, so we recognize the costs associated with doing business," he said. "Allowing recreational access to that resource, there's a cost to that. So I think that's what we're talking about is how we can come up with some ideas on potential ways we can address that cost."
Commissioner Jeff LaVoi pointed out that people can fish at the upper lake, Bear Paw Lake, which is maintained by FWP, without buying a park permit.
"So it only applies to the lower lake," LaVoi said.
"And the stream," Flowers said.
Cabin owner Rose Cloninger said the day-use fee applies to more than fishing.
Margaret Hencz, another cabin owner at the meeting, added that out of a group of 10 people one might be fishing while nine others picnic or camp without fishing.
Flowers agreed, but, "That's where we get tripped up. If you just come here to fish you still have to pay for it and, in a sense, you're paying for that milk twice. ...
"It's kind of convoluted," he added. "We can make it work. We just have figure out how."