In a state with an over-abundance of Forest Service and BLM lands, do Idaho's state parks even stand a chance at confronting the challenges coming their way? That's the gist of our story, “The State of Our Parks,” airing in December.
As one of those who has spent many hours on federal public lands, I'm finding out new things about our state parks. For example, Idaho's first state park was named after U.S. Senator Weldon Heyburn, who was pushing for a national park – not a state park – at the southern end of Lake Coeur d' Alene. In fact, he called state parks “always a subject of political embarrassment.”
So Idaho's first state park was named after a man who hated the concept of state parks. But that irony should not diminish the fact that, after more than a century, Heyburn State Park is still one of the best state parks in the northwest.
Once considered the purview of the rich, today you can pretty much find any kind of outdoor recreation at Idaho’s parks – skiing, fishing, hiking, swimming, horseback riding, rock climbing, disc golf. On certain weekends, you can even get a lesson in the firing of Civil War cannons.
We have already begun visiting parks and will continue to do so throughout the spring and summer. Since we only have an hour, we will be zeroing in on a handful of Idaho's parks, like Heyburn, Thousand Springs, Priest Lake, Land of the Yankee Fork, Bruneau Dunes, Eagle Island, Old Mission, and Harriman. It was the Harriman family's special deal with Governor Robert Smylie that led to the creation of the State Parks system.
“To improve the quality of life in Idaho through outdoor recreation and resource stewardship” – that’s the agency mission statement, a mission statement that has evolved over the years, as state parks have become more egalitarian.
Park development in Idaho has always been challenging. The neighboring state of Oregon has more than 150 parks. We have 30. Personally, it's hard to believe that the number of Idaho's parks will increase any time soon, or that a reliance on volunteerism is enough to keep open all of our current parks into the foreseeable future.
But the diversity of Idaho's state parks is really quite remarkable. Each one seems to fill a niche. Each one seems to have a constituency or a community championing it. Each one seems to have a story to tell.