Parks powering up 

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has resurrected a series of 2008 proposals to electrify campsites in six state parks, sparking a backlash in the outdoor recreation community.

The projects would cost an estimated $801,000 and establish 118 electrical pedestals at Salmon Lake, Placid Lake, Beavertail Hill, Black Sandy, West Shore and Lewis and Clark Caverns state parks. Critics last year railed against similar proposals for a host of reasons. FWP defends the proposals as accommodating a wide array of park users.

"Not every campsite under these proposals would be electrified," says FWP Parks Administrator Chas Van Genderen. "It's just providing a little bit of additional service for another sector of the population."

Tent campers argue electricity enables wide-scale use of appliances like televisions that cause noise and light pollution. Former Montana legislator Bob Raney says this is just "one more step in the constant development of the parks until they're no longer parks, until all they become is RV (recreational vehicle) parking lots."

"You may as well be at a KOA," Raney says. "At least at a KOA they serve breakfast."

Van Genderen counters that the affected parks are already popular among RV users who typically run loud generators for want of electricity. RV users account for over 50 percent of visitors to Salmon Lake, according to FWP, and Van Genderen says some campers need to power equipment for chronic ailments like sleep apnea. Fees would increase from $15 to $20 per night for electrified sites to cover energy costs.

Nearby private campgrounds that cater to RVs could construe FWP electrification as competition, but Sue Heagy of Tamaracks Resort in Seeley Lake says she considers the move "wonderful." The few RV sites she has–at $28 per night–are usually booked well in advance.

"A lot of people complain about that," Heagy says. "We turn a lot of people away because there isn't anything left here."

A broader concern is how electrification might impact FWP's compliance with the 20x10 initiative–Gov. Brian Schweitzer's mandate that state agencies reduce energy consumption 20 percent by 2010. FWP's Gary Bertellotti says electrifying campgrounds will create a new vector for energy consumption, but FWP is balancing the effect with added cuts on the transportation and administrative sides.

The electrification proposals' public comment period ends at the concludes of August.

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