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Some might find it odd to be advocating for the state parks at a time when so many other issues seem far more important. Yet at the outset of the pandemic during the stay at home phase, many people flocked to the state parks. These special places had plenty of room for social distancing and they could escape the confines of their homes and be able to take a deep breath of fresh air without inhaling any dangerous respiratory illness. The parks became their “islands of hope” in an ever-expanding urban environment and places of refuge during hard times. However, suddenly the parks became overcrowded and some even set visitation records. The heavy demand for park space continued on into the summer months with many parks remaining full. In these days where we discuss what is and is not essential, it appears that the Idaho citizens see their parks as essential…..essential to their well-being.

Governor Little identified “protecting and enhancing outdoor recreation” as one of his priorities in his inaugural address. This shows that he has recognized just how important this issue is to the people of Idaho. When the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) was created by the Legislature, it was to be governed by a six-member state park board in which no more than three members were to be from any one political party. This implies that IDPR was to be administered in a non-partisan manner. Further, the state park board was empowered to hire a director who was to “. . . be selected upon the basis of executive ability, experience and training in park and recreational matters.”

The state park board has the responsibility to be good stewards of our state parks. The over 6 million people who visit the state parks each year are counting on the board to do right by them and their parks. It is our hope that the board will recruit and select a new director that has the experience and background necessary to lead this agency into the future. We’ve been fortunate to have a Director, David Langhorst, who did a great job to further needed improvements to our parks and continue the legacy that was begun before him. With his retirement comes the need for us to expect that the recruitment process will be done in a fair, impartial, and non-partisan manner. The Board should conduct this process in a way that will attract the best and brightest candidates based upon their qualifications, including their background, education, and knowledge of the park and recreation business. Too often we see these key positions being a stepping-stone for the politically affluent. We’re advocating for a park and recreation professional.

This is a critical time and Idaho is going to need a person of great vision and ability with a strong voice to lead the IDPR into the future and enhance the recreational opportunities our state parks and recreation areas represent.

Dennis McLane is the interim president of the Friends of Idaho State Parks.

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