parks plan

TOM STROMME/Tribune Governor Jack Dalrymple, right, outlined a major plan for North Dakota State Parks on Monday afternoon including a conditional proposal to transform 200 acres of state land along the Missouri River in south Bismarck. Gov. Dalrymple's plan calls for $30.4 million for existing state park amenities as well as a proposal to increase the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund to $50 million to bring the package to $80.4 million for the 2015-17 biennium. In back, from left, are Sen. Ron Carlisle (R-Bismarck), Rep. Todd Porter (R-Mandan), Sen. Jessica Unruh (R-Beulah), State Game and Fish director Terry Steinwand, State Parks Director Mark Zimmerman, Bismarck Parks Director Randy Bina.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple unveiled a budget proposal Monday that would nearly triple investments in statewide conservation and state parks during the 2015-17 biennium.

Dalrymple joined with officials at the state Capitol to outline a proposal that would increase conservation funding to $80.4 million.

The plan would increase the North Dakota Outdoor Heritage Fund from $30 million per biennium to $50 million. In addition, $30.4 million in new funding was proposed for upgrades to North Dakota’s state parks.

Also, 200 acres of state-owned land along the Missouri River in Bismarck is being proposed to be turned into a park with access to the river. The land is located south of the Missouri River Correctional Center.

The Outdoor Heritage Fund was created during the 2013 session; three grant rounds totaling more than $14.1 million in projects have been approved.

Dalrymple said the growing debate on Measure 5 prompted him to unveil the proposal, which will appear in his 2015-17 executive budget.

Measure 5 would create a Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Trust, setting aside

5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue annually for conservation.

In August, the Office of Management and Budget estimated Measure 5 would cost approximately $49 million for the remainder of the 2013-15 biennium and

$259 million for 2015-17.

Dalrymple said he doesn’t believe the state should address its demands for conservation via constitutional measure.

“This is the approach I feel is the right way to go,” Dalrymple said. “This

$80.4 million package ... will not add significantly to the state’s ongoing budget obligations.”

The largest is for $8 million to Lake Sakakawea State Park, for projects including 80 new campsites, road improvements and the creation of a new lodge.

A total of $3.7 million is proposed for Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park for a new activity center, road upgrades and expanding electrical services.

North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department Director Mark Zimmerman said the projects in the proposal have been in the works for years through the park system’s master planning process.

“This amount of projects is going to keep us busy for ... a couple years at least,” Zimmerman said.

Carmen Miller, public policy director for the Great Plains Region for Ducks Unlimited, said the move by the governor was a positive step. The organization is involved with a coalition promoting Measure 5.

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“More funding for parks and conservation and outdoor heritage is great news for North Dakota,” Miller said.

Miller said more is necessary to preserve the state’s parks and landscape while contending with an increasing population and record oil production.

“We have a unique opportunity to make an investment in our quality of life,” Miller said. “(We’re) glad to see this dialogue being put to the forefront.”

Jon Godfread, vice president of governmental affairs for the Greater North Dakota Chamber, said the governor’s announcement shows that the state can address conservation adequately.

“What it shows is there’s a willingness to look at addressing the needs,” Godfread said.

Godfread said additional Outdoor Heritage Fund money would provide more opportunities to fund projects.

Godfread said the parks recommendations appeared to be well thought out.

Godfread said Monday’s announcement helps provide a fairly accurate picture of statewide conservation needs.

“I think it does bolster our argument,” Godfread said.

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Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.