State Parks are important to Montana. Not counting hunting and fishing, at least 71% of Montanans participate in outdoor recreation each year. According to the Outdoor Industry Association this produces $5.8 billion and supports 64,000 direct Montana jobs.
According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research of the University of Montana, two million State Park visitors spent $289 million in connection with their visits to state parks. Further, according to the same group's 2010 study, nonresident visitors spent $122.3 million and produced 1600 jobs in connection with State Parks. State Parks means big business for Montana. But it can be bigger.
Our State Parks are worthy. The Smith River is clearly a destination for not only the people from Montana but from all over the United States. Some of the other 54 State Parks have the potential to be destination parks and not merely a side trip on the way to Glacier or Yellowstone. They are real gems.
Some, such as Makoshika, Medicine Rocks, Lewis and Clark Caverns, and Giant Springs are really unique geological features. Makoshika was recently named one of 10 "most magnificent, unheralded parks across America" by Country Magazine. Medicine Rock not only boasts fascinating geological features, but has a cowboy's hand carved picture of his sweetheart carved in a rock 100 years ago.
Bannack (Montana's first capital), Pictograph Caves (featuring Indian pictographs that go back thousands of years), Travelers Rest (the first archaeologically verified campsite of Lewis and Clark), and the Rosebud Battlefield (where the U.S. Army fought the same Indians as Custer days before the battle of the Little Bighorn) have significant historic value. First People's Buffalo Jump is located where Indians all over Montana used to gather before the introduction of horses (and the white man) which made them more warlike. Its new visitor's center is spectacular.
Tom Towe and Jeff Welch are members of the Montana Parks and Recreation Board.