Idaho's Harriman State Park - A Model for the Future?

Case Study

Summary

State parks across the nation are serving more and more visitors while struggling to preserve natural and cultural resources. As demands for tax-generated revenues grow, many state legislatures are cutting appropriations to their park systems. Shrinking funds and growing usage threaten the well-being of all our state parks.

Yet Holly Lippke Fretwell, an expert on public land policy at PERC—The Center for Free Market Environmentalism, sees a bright future for state parks. She says innovative approaches to funding and management can make parks financially self-sufficient and also more responsive to the needs of the resources and the visitors.

In this case study, she takes an in-depth look at Harriman State Park in eastern Idaho, one of America's premier state parks. This 16,000-acre refuge is endowed with an abundance of wildlife, stunning views of the Grand Tetons, miles of trails, as well as world class fly fishing on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River. Harriman was donated to the state with an endowment fund to ensure its protection into the future.

Despite this apparent bounty of resources, the park remains dependent on state appropriations for its survival. And a new master plan currently under development by the state does not address funding concerns.

Taking a cue from some ground-breaking programs at both national and state parks, Fretwell suggests alternative approaches:

  • Establish a board of trustees representing a broad array of interests to run the park by using park revenues to pay costs.
  • Restructure the fee system and develop visitor programs.
  • Expand nightly accommodations, making use of existing historic structures.
  • Launch a fund-raising drive with the help of park friends to increase the endowment.

"Harriman has the perfect opportunity to lead Idaho state parks into a future of self-reliance," says Fretwell.

"Harriman State Park - A Model for the Future?" is the first in a new PERC series that examines problems at state parks around the country. We intend to step outside the box and offer new strategies and innovative approaches to park funding and management.

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Holly Fretwell is a Research Fellow at PERC and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University where she has taught  introductory economics, macroeconomics, natural resources and environmental economics. She works with the Foundation for Teaching Economics, giving workshops for  high school teachers to improve their skills in teaching and...
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