Top 4 Most Endangered State Parks for 2016

The Montana State Parks Foundation is a voice for Montana's 55 state parks. We have a responsibility to our donors, park visitors and the people of Montana to bring awareness to state parks' numerous funding challenges in hopes of starting a discussion about how we as a state can make (and fund) a better state park system—one that is worthy of our tremendous outdoor heritage and our spectacular natural environment and history.

This list of "Montana's Most Endangered State Parks" will be compiled annually by the Montana State Parks Foundation board and staff. It is intended to show how continual legislative funding shortfalls affect some of our most popular parks.

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1 | Bannack

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Montana's first territorial capitol is one of the best preserved ghost towns in the United States and one of our state park system's true gems. But its location in a punishing environment takes a constant toll. A 2013 flash flood caused extensive damage to 19 buildings including the signature Hotel Meade. Plans are in the works to construct a series of holding ponds to prevent such flooding in the future, but no ground has been broken on the project. Meanwhile, the threat of fire always looms with 140-year-old wooden buildings built in a high desert. The fire detection system has failed, and the state legislature couldn't come up with the funding to replace it during the last session. And don't even get us started on the number of failing roofs. 

 

2 | Makoshika

Montana's largest state park and the undisputed jewel of the eastern part of the state, Makoshika is a wonderland of rock formations, badlands and color. Unfortunately, the forces of erosion that create the park's beauty are also brutal on the roads. A 2011 landslide washed out the main gravel road to the top rendering more than half the park inaccessible to vehicles. While the road has since been repaired, continual funding shortages mean short-term fixes and frequent closures when the road really needs to be rebuilt and repaved entirely. Meanwhile, numerous paleontological artifacts can literally appear overnight after a big rain. But because of the lack of funding, which means little oversight and limited capacity to document the finds, these artifacts are left vulnerable to theft. To top it all off, the 28-site campground lacks potable water. For a signature park right off a main interstate highway in the town of Glendive, visitors here deserve more.

 

3 | Hell Creek

When you think of Fort Peck Lake, many Montanans envision beauty, solitude, the wide open expanse of the prairie and walleye. But show up on a summer weekend at Hell Creek and learn the meaning of bumper-to-bumper camping. Visitors have to travel 26 miles on a gravel road just to reach Hell Creek, so state parks have implemented a no-turn-away policy. While well-intended, the policy in practice can result in more than 1,000 people crammed into a park that has just 55 campsites. Regardless of how you feel about that experience, such crowding creates a suite of issues that are more akin to those of some of Montana's small towns—many of which have a smaller population than Hell Creek weekends: undersized septic system, lack of staff, health code violations, and lack of law enforcement. Without some changes here, it's hard to see how the current situation can continue past 2021 when the current lease with the Army Corps of Engineers expires.

 

4 | Sluice Boxes 

Belt Creek flows through Sluice Box Canyon creating this hidden gem—one of the prettiest spots in central Montana. Some call it a miniature Smith River. But a lack of funding means there is almost no management presence at this state park, located less than an hour's drive from Great Falls. On any given hot summer day crowds of partiers jump off bridges and cliffs, detracting greatly from the family atmosphere parks are intended to provide. Recent graffiti damaged some of the spectacular cliff walls in July, 2015. Worse, the numerous historic buildings and artifacts in the canyon have never been catalogued, let alone preserved putting the rich history of the canyon in serious danger of being lost.