- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Montana state parks officials say they will stop supporting Hell Creek State Park unless state legislators, federal agencies and park users come up with a plan to help pay for improvements that could run as high as $4 million.

The proposal to possibly abandon the popular site located north of Jordan on the shores of Fort Peck Reservoir in 2021 also asked the parks division to come back to the board in February with more ideas on how to raise money to keep the park open.

Board chairman Tom Towe suggested increasing camping funds, but critics said that money has previously gone into a pot that pays for other park division projects as well.

Chas Van Genderen, Montana State Parks administrator, said only a few places like Lewis and Clark Caverns and Big Arm State Park on Flathead Lake generate enough revenue.

“The revenue we generate in the park system goes to the whole system,” Van Genderen said.

Doug Habermann, regional Montana State Parks manager in Billings, said the state hopes that the Army Corps of Engineers that leases Hell Creek State Park back to the state at no cost could take over operations.

“We are not looking to abandon this site to nobody,” he said.

John Daggett, operations project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Peck, said his agency can’t guarantee anything, the Billings Gazette reported (http://tinyurl.com/hfjxcu8).

“The Corps currently does not have funding to run Hell Creek,” Daggett wrote in the email. “We may have to close it or reduce services significantly. It would all depend on funding, which is very difficult in our Rec Program,” Daggett said.

Habermann said needed improvements will cost about $4 million, and the state Legislature only authorized $1.5 million for some of those fixes. The money would go to meet public health and safety standards.

Officials say the parks board and division will have until 2019 to find ways to keep the park before the state’s existing lease expires in 2021.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com

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