Ackley to become State Recreation Area Montana State Parks and Recreation Board extends Ackley Lake lease

By: 
VICKY MCCRAY
Special to the News-Argus

During a Feb. 16 meeting in Helena, the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board voted to extend its one-year Ackley Lake lease with DNRC. The lease has been extended to 2021.
In August 2016 the Board agreed to renew the lease to Dec. 31, 2017. During this meeting they also required a working group be established to meet and discuss the situation facing Ackley and the options for management in the future.
A 10-member Study Board was established in November, and has met every month since then to discuss options for new management of Ackley. Realizing the time involved in the Study Board’s developing a plan for Ackley’s future, the State Parks and Recreation Board voted to extend the lease five more years.
People will see a new sign at Ackley, however. Montana Parks and Recreation is currently in the process of renaming most of its sites. Just the Class 1 sites will be called State Parks. Three other designations will be used to name sites: State Recreation Area, State Historic Site and State Natural Area. Ackley will be Ackley Lake State Recreation Area.
The State Parks website will still include Ackley, but it will be linked under its new name.

Budget and management
set for this year
Ackley will still be funded through State Parks (at least for the five years), but at Tuesday’s Ackley Lake Study Board meeting, Region 4 Park Manager and Study Board Vice Chairman John Taillie said Parks’ budget probably will not increase for Ackley. The cost to run the park is about $15,000 annually, but more funds are needed to do upgrades.
Taillie added that in its classification of the state’s 55 parks, the agency was attempting to move resources, especially salary costs, out of the lower-classed parks. Parks currently has .3 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) allocated for Ackley Lake; Taillie thought it was approximately 800 hours per year.
What the department would like to do, Taillie said, is pay Judith Basin County for the .3 FTE and have the county hire the person to maintain Ackley. He explained State Parks has the money for this position, but needs the staffing elsewhere. A cooperative agreement or memorandum of understanding would be made between the county and State Parks.
Taillie announced the recent hiring of a new manager for Ackley Lake, Clark Carlson-Thompson. Carlson-Thompson has been a ranger at First Peoples Buffalo Jump for the last 2-and-a-half years, and will begin work at Ackley on March 6.

Parks department
suggests donation option
Taillie shared the department’s ideas for Ackley with Study Board members. He noted the need for the Board to look at charging more or getting donations for camping fees. Currently, only out-of-state residents are charged to camp at Ackley. He said donations would be the best way to handle the fees, -- the donations could go to the Montana State Parks Foundation, and would then come directly back to Ackley. If State Parks receives camping revenue, it will go directly into the agency’s general fund.
Taillie said the department is not interested in making many improvements at Ackley, and people using the site seem happy with the current primitive camping – a fire ring and table. Ackley currently has 15 shelters with tables and rings. Donations could be suggested for users of these sites, and for other sites without these amenities. The donations could be used to purchase more fire rings and more tables, and perhaps, Taillie said, someone would be willing to donate some road work, creating more pull-offs from the road and more sites.
Taillie said the Board might also start a Friends group, which could help collect fees and deposit them.
Judith Basin County Commissioner and Study Board Chairman Cody McDonald was all for trying the honor system for donations. McDonald would like to include a sign with suggested donations from the various users – overnight, day use, etc. He thinks these suggestions should be kept at a minimum.
Board member Tom Swanz added the signs should include a statement noting the donations will go back into maintaining the facilities at the lake. A member of the public, as well as Board member Garth French, suggested the use of the donations be specific – to buy new fire rings and tables, for example. People who typically donate are more interested in donating when they know where their money is going.
Board member Bing Von Bergen questioned Taillie about the implementation of a fee structure. He and others are not completely sold on the donation idea. Taillie said the fee schedule is complicated and compliance is a major issue; rules must be in place.
French, who represents the Ackley Lake water users, expressed the group’s concern for the zebra mussel invasion. He wondered if resources would still be available for keeping an eye on this invasive species if the county were to take control of hiring the manager for Ackley.
Taillie explained zebra mussels are an entirely different issue. McDonald added the county is working with the Conservation District on the issue, specific to Ackley.
Taillie will visit with different Friends’ groups to see how they operate and how this type of group could be used to benefit Ackley. Are they able to distribute donations or would the Board have to work through the Montana State Parks Foundation?
He will also come up with a design and wording for a new sign.
McDonald will check with Snowy Mountain Development Corporation and the Judith Basin Endowment to see if the county can work through one of them for depositing donations from Ackley.
Taillie informed the Board Tuesday it may not be possible to get a donation process in place before people begin camping at Ackley this year. He added DNRC will also have to be onboard with the ideas.
The Study Board agreed to meet in two months. The next meeting is set for Tuesday, April 11, 2 p.m. in the Judith Basin County Courthouse meeting room.

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