People around the world know of Montana’s exemplary national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone, but its network of 55 state parks also make Montana a remarkable place to visit and live. These parks preserve and protect invaluable natural, cultural, and historical resources, enhance communities, and contribute to the state’s multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry.

But the Montana State Parks system faces stubborn and growing challenges, including stagnant funding, deteriorating facilities, and a backlog of deferred maintenance. A 2015-2020 strategic plan for Montana State Parks framed ways to strengthen each part of the state parks system. To carry out those recommendations, Montana Governor Steve Bullock in January 2018 created the Montana Parks in Focus Commission, a year-long collaborative public-private effort to ensure that the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks has the resources, capacity, and expertise to translate core visions of the five-year strategic plan into action.

With philanthropic support, RLF is staffing the Parks in Focus effort. Working closely with the governor’s office and Montana parks leaders, RLF employees in Bozeman are building a support coalition, facilitating public engagement, managing work groups, guiding research, and providing day-to-day support for the 12-member Commission.

There is precedent for such an effort. After a fiscal crisis and irregularities threatened to force the closure of California state parks in 2012, RLF struck a formal partnership with the state of California to coordinate the Parks Forward Initiative. With funding from several philanthropic foundations, RLF helped to establish a diverse Parks Forward Commission of experts and stakeholders. The 2014 recommendations of the Parks Forward Commission have driven significant organizational and funding improvements to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, making it better equipped to serve an increasingly young, diverse, and urban population.

Though the setting and challenges differ, RLF is optimistic that its strategic focus on the Montana state parks system will yield similar results. For more information, visit Parks in Focus.