- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A decades-old proposal to upgrade Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve to a national park is getting new life.

The monument’s superintendent, Dan Buckley, is proposing the upgrade and says he has briefed Idaho’s congressional delegation. The move would ultimately require congressional approval.

Idaho is the only state in the West without a national park entirely within its borders. It’s only piece of the national park system is a small slice of Yellowstone.

Tourism officials say upgrading Craters of the Moon could pay big dividends, raising its visibility and hopefully drawing more tourists. Many visitors, foreigners in particular, plan vacations around visiting national parks. Many national park guidebooks don’t even list Craters, which is 15 miles from Arco.

“I think it will get people here to stay longer and enjoy the many other things what we have to offer,” Debbie Dane, executive director of Southern Idaho Tourism, headquartered in Twin Falls, told the Idaho Statesman (https://bit.ly/1vD4dfB ).

President Calvin Coolidge designated Craters a national monument in 1924. President Bill Clinton expanded it from 54,000 acres to 753,000 acres in 2000, and Congress later said areas outside the original monument boundaries would be open to hunting.

Buckley said he’d like to change the name but keep the management structure the same. He wouldn’t use the move to ask for a bigger budget, although parks usually do get more money to spend on programs and preservation than do monuments.

The 700,000-plus acres in the expansion are under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, and would remain so. Access to grazing and hunting would remain the same.

Craters of the Moon’s volcanic lava flows, which come from eruptions that occurred in just the past 10,000 years, cover hundreds of square miles, giving it the appearance of a lunar landscape. Apollo astronauts trained there in the 1960s; even today, NASA is conducting research to aid future space missions.

“To me, Craters is of park quality,” said John Freemuth, a Boise State University public policy professor and a former National Park Service ranger. “Its unique geology alone ranks it with other national parks.”

Craters averages about 200,000 visits a year; this year Buckley expects 210,000. And the National Park Service is changing its fee structure. It will make the entry fee $15 for one car for one week good for all park units, Buckley said. Currently, Craters charges $8 to visit just Craters.

It gets to keep all of its receipts up to $500,000, and 80 percent after that, to reinvest into the park. Buckley plans to use the funds to improve visitor access, such as creating a mountain bike trail and eventually creating more access to features to the south near Interstate 84, such as the Kings Bowl lava field, which has ice caves to explore.

Chad Cheyney of the University of Idaho Extension Service in Arco serves on the Butte County Chamber of Commerce board, which has discussed the idea but not taken a stand. He thinks it would boost economic development.

“For some reason we haven’t been able to capitalize on the monument as much as we should,” Cheyney said. “Raising the status of it could help.”

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Information from: Idaho Statesman, https://www.idahostatesman.com

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