Ackley Lake – no longer a state park?

News-Argus Managing Editor

A young fisherman tries his luck at Ackley Lake. If the State Parks board approves, the lake may no longer be managed as a park.

Photo by Jacques Rutten


Ackley Lake, a popular camping and fishing spot in Central Montana, could see a major change in management next year, with the focus shifting from camping to irrigation if Montana State Parks terminates its lease on the site.

According to Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 4 Park Manager John Taillie, the decision on the future of the park falls to the State Parks Board.

“State Parks is struggling to provide staffing and funding for all the parks we have,” Taillie explained. “At the end of last year [2015] the Board approved “Charting a New Tomorrow,” a strategic plan for the parks, which serves as a framework for managing Montana’s 55 state parks.”

One goal listed in the strategic plan is to classify the parks in terms of significance, relevance and accessibility. Ackley Lake, along with 14 other state parks, is defined as a Class 4 park. According to the policy adopted by the State Parks Board in December 2015, Class 4 parks are to undergo “alternative management,” including seeking partnerships with, or transfers to, other public land agencies.

“We have a funding challenge,” Taillie said. “We need to defer funding from lower class parks to higher class parks, in order to manage them well.”

Taillie said the strategic plan offers the option to turn some lands back to other public land management agencies, keeping the land public but removing it from the state park system.

“In the case of Ackley Lake, we don’t own the property, we just lease it from the Department of Natural Resource Conservation,” Taillie said. “That would be the logical course of action; turning the park back to DNRC to manage.”


DNRC not set up to manage recreation sites

Kevin Smith, chief of the DNRC Water Projects Bureau, said FWP has had a no-fee lease for Ackley Lake.

“They had a multi-year lease on the site, but it expired and we are discussing one that ends in December, 2017,” Smith said.

The new lease provides time for FWP to decide what they want to do with the site, he added.

“Right now I don’t know for sure whether FWP wants to walk away from the park, maintain the status quo or convert it to a fishing access site,” Smith told the News-Argus.

One thing Smith was sure of: if the site is returned to solely DNRC management, it will no longer include overnight camping.

“DNRC doesn’t deal with recreation or fishing access sites,” he said. “We have no staffing and zero budget for running recreation sites. We create leases with FWP to provide for site policing and caretaking.”

Clint Smith, FWP fisheries biologist, said changing the state park status of Ackley Lake should have no impact to public access or the fishery.

Clint cited examples of two other reservoirs as possible Ackley models: Bair Reservoir, which has no fishing access site but is open to the public for recreation, and Martinsdale Reservoir, which has a Fishing Access Site through a cooperative agreement between FWP and DNRC.

If the lease with State Parks ends, Kevin Smith said there would need to be negotiations over how to handle the facilities, including campsites, picnic tables, shelters and toilets. He was unsure whether the facilities would be removed or left in place.

“One option is change the area to day use only,” he said. “But if the area is not self-policed, if there is vandalism or the area is torn up, then we might have to restrict access. One thing I loath is creating problems for neighbors, problems such as garbage and noxious weeds.”

Whatever happens, Kevin said his goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible.




State Parks budget, strategic plan drive decision

The decision before State Parks and the DNRC stem from the goals of the newly adopted State Parks strategic plan.

According to FWP Marketing and Communications Manager Pat Doyle, prior to 2013, State Parks received guidance from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but in 2013 Governor Bullock created a parks board.

“This was the first time we looked at our parks, our resources and how to bring our system forward,” Doyle said. “The strategic plan outlines how to improve and strengthen our park system.”

“We [State Parks] are underfunded,” Taillie said. “We don’t receive any funding from hunting or fishing licenses. We are funded through a $6 opt-out fee on vehicle registrations, earned revenue from boat licenses and fuel taxes, and coal taxes. We did some surveys and found, compared to other states, we are at about 68 percent of staffing. We’re trying to let people know what we’re up against.”

Doyle said those who wish to make comments on the future of Ackley Lake State Park are welcome to attend the Aug. 18 State Parks Board meeting at First People’s Buffalo Jump State Park near Great Falls.



Where is your favorite place to go camping in Central Montana?