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Beaver Creek Park is a special place

There are several factors that make Beaver Creek Park a unique and special place.

Ecological diversity

The Bear Paw Mountains are one of the island mountain ranges of Montana. Each of our sister island mountain ranges have their own character. The Bear Paws were thrust up by volcanic activity and carved around by glaciers. Beaver Creek Park extends from a mountain topographic and vegetation communities to foothills and prairie environments in a short distance making it an interesting place for enjoyment and study of geography, geology, ecology, plants and animals.

Human history

Early Native Americans capitalized on the diversity from the prairie landscape with its different plants, animals and opportunities. Early day explores and trappers found this same diversity useful for navigation, subsistence and commercial activities.

The establishment of Fort Assinniboine influenced white man's settlement because military reservations were withdrawn from the public domain and not available for homesteading or other settlement. Subsequent establishment of the Rocky Boy reservation again influenced the formation of what is now Beaver Creek Park.

At the time of abandonment of the Fort Assinniboine local folks recognized the potential value of what is now Beaver Creek Park as a public resource for the area and arranged for designation as a park. Through the first half of the 1900s the area was sometimes referred to as a national, state, county or city park.

The Civilian Conservation Corps set up operations in the park for a period and was somewhat in control for a while. Sometimes the park was managed as a city park, state park or county park. For some of this period there was no respected and firmly established management structure accountable to the public. During these times of unclear ownership or control, some people used the park for their own personal interests without much respect for the larger public interest. By mid century clear ownership and control by the county came into existence and was being recognized as the managing authority.

Local Control of a Public Resource

Most often, local control of a public resource is discussed in the context of land resources designated at the federal level, such as national forests, national parks, monuments, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, public lands, etc. Looking after these public lands is delegated to agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, National Parks Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, etc. in the interest of all Americans. Often local residents around these lands feel imposed upon and feel they should have control of such lands. Often it becomes a prickly issue where locals complain about how the folks "in Washington, D.C.," or "east of the Mississippi" are sticking their noses in "our" business. There are all sorts of versions; however a common thread in the issue is the local interest versus the interest of owners of the property.

Beaver Creek Park is a unique scale of local control of a public resource. The 300 millon Americans or even the 1 million Montana's do not own Beaver Creek Park. It is owned collectively by the 16,000 to 17,000 people of Hill County. On the other hand, Beaver Creek Park is not owned by the approximately 124 cabin owners on the park, nor the approximately 22 stockmen that graze livestock in the park.

When it comes to what happens in Beaver Creek Park it is a matter of working with folks that call Hill County home. These are not far-away, faceless people, they are the folks we see in the grocery store, at church, at the mall, in Big R, at the fair, in our schools and at local games, rodeos and other activities.

A faceless/distant public is easy to blame, and there are not many consequences. The varied interests when it comes to Beaver Creek Park have faces, and we recognize that there are consequences of having conflicts with those we live around. It is normal to not want to offend those that we know because it is a local business or person and have much to lose in either boycotting a business or losing a place to hunt or fish.

Are there competing interests when it comes to Beaver Creek Park? We may try to tell ourselves there are not, but there are. It comes between interests and among interests. It becomes apparent at park board meetings.

It is sometimes difficult to "get our heads around" what the competing interest are. We associate with our own groups and may not know each other well even though we live in the same county. It is easy to see one side, but harder to see both sides and even harder to see value in a side that we do not necessarily agree with. At the level of park management there is only one "side" and that is the interest of the park for the reason it exists — the county and the collective citizens of Hill County.

So why is this important? It is the county's call and not governments above or specific interests or user groups that will decide what happens in Beaver Creek Park. Hill County does have to operate in accordance with federal and state laws and regulations, but after that, the business of Beaver Creek Park is the business of Hill County and its citizens!

On May 8, of this year, there will be a public meeting to discuss and comment on a management plan for the public land the Bureau of Land Management is accountable for along the Hi-Line. This process started several years ago. It will be frustrating to local folks and be easy to blame things on the faceless public outside of the Hi-Line. By contrast, Beaver Creek Park is embarking on its own planning effort to better define the long-term goals and management direction for the park. Hopefully, it should not be as formal or frustrating as a federal or state planning effort, but it still needs participation of the informed and objective citizens of Hill County and not just special interests. A preliminary mission has been drafted for Beaver Creek Park as follows: "Beaver Creek Park creates an outdoor experience that is satisfying, educational and enlightening in terms of the natural elements while preserving and sustaining itself for future generations."

If the effort develops into a process of interest versus interest or campaigns for special interests "wants" then it becomes a political process and not an effective planning process. The park board will be the significant player but should not have to be the referee. Interests need to talk with each other and develop consensus and not degenerate into political process that focuses on "winning" and "losing."

The planning challenge is to recognize and define the future for the park. It is easy to say, "We want it to stay the same." But what does that mean? After all, we are all changing and getting older, our wants and needs change across generations, economic pressures change, and environmental considerations are evolving. The fact remains, things do change, the key will be to facilitate the change that we need and want to happen and not just let change happen or resist when it comes.

Management

Beaver Creek Park has a lean operations staff consisting of a park superintendent, seasonal help, part-time administrative assistance and a park board of appointed citizen volunteers and elected county commissioners making decisions about and overseeing Beaver Creek Park. By contrast, most parks at federal and state levels have a staff (or staff available to them) of paid business managers and resource-management specialists in addition to an operations staff.

Park operations deal with matters of day-to-day management of the park as well as working with the park board and county commissioners on administrative, management and planning issues. Park operations do not necessarily meet individual wants of users but is responsible for looking after the well being of the park and the interest of the county while still providing opportunities for a diverse public.

The park board's role and responsibility is to develop policy, provide recommendations and make decisions for management of the park. It oversees the budget and finances and is an avenue for public participation. The park board has regular scheduled monthly business meetings to deal with on going administrative and management issues and listen to public comment.

The county commissioners cover all aspects of county business. Other counties are not so blessed to have such a significant and treasured asset of Beaver Creek Park. In fact, we claim to have the largest county park in the nation. Along with having such an asset come substantial responsibilities for the commissioners to the citizens and resources of Hill County.

Lastly the citizens of Hill County also have a responsibility to be informed and participate in the planning and management of Beaver Creek Park because WE own the park. federal and state laws and regulations guarantee a right to know and to participate in such local matters.

Pay its own way

Unlike other parks that are funded by appropriations from Congress or legislatures or within larger government agencies budgets, Beaver Creek Park is expected to pay its own way or at least a substantial part of its own way. Other parks have missions and operational criteria laid down in the reason for their establishment. They develop annual and long-term workplans and budgets which do not necessarily have to "balance the budget" in themselves.

Income generated from recreation permits, cabin sites, rental of facilities, grazing, haying, etc. raise money for the operation of the Beaver Creek Park. Some are a matter of dealing with commercial businesses where others are educational, charitable causes, or personal recreation. It happens that income from these activities do not always cover the expense of taking care of the park. To make up the difference between income and expenses, the county can put taxpayer money to the park operation or secure grants or have others contribute.

Beaver Creek Park has a long history of local groups, service clubs, families and individuals investing in public recreational facilities, other improvements and some maintenance. Many of these the park could not pay for from park fees nor would it be easily funded from taxpayer dollars.

A recently organized group, the Friends of Beaver Creek Park is not a part of government but a nonprofit organization dedicated to the park and therefore has a wider range of opportunities to raise and manage money to invest in the park. With this kind of investment going in to the park, there must be ongoing, close coordination and cooperation between the park and FBCP to assure all parties that everyone is acting in the interest of the park.

With these unique circumstances of Beaver Creek Park, come unique opportunities and responsibilities that we need to think about, productively participate in, and develop creative ideas as we plan for the future of our Beaver Creek Park.

(L.L. "Lou" Hagener, a longtime Havre resident, has been working on ways to communicate the uniqueness of Beaver Creek Park.)

 

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