Harriman State Park is a pristine, natural landscape of wonder and awe in eastern Idaho. That’s why there is so much concern about a proposal that could result in the loss of this one-of-a-kind state park.
Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian) introduced House Bill 496 in the Idaho Legislature this session. The bill would transfer hiring authority and oversight from several agency boards to the governor. While the bill has reportedly been drafted to punish the Idaho Transportation Department, the bill puts Harriman State Park in danger.
One of the boards that the proposal would affect is the Idaho Parks and Recreation Board. If HB 496 passes, the governor would appoint and oversee the Director of Idaho Parks and Recreation. While many agency heads are selected by the governor, the history of Harriman State Park and the parks department are intertwined. Specifically, the bill could violate the gift agreement that governed the Harriman family’s donation of these lands and their management into the future.
An Idaho Gem
Located in eastern Idaho, Harriman State Park is considered to be one of the crown jewels of the state. At 11,000 acres, it is one of Idaho’s largest parks. Drawing approximately 90,000 visitors a year, the park offers summer and winter activities that include horseback riding, mountain biking, cross country skiing and snowboarding. This park is also renowned for its fly fishing, which draws people from around the world. Not only is Harriman State Park an idyllic place for people to experience nature, but it’s also a significant contributor to the local economy.
Before becoming a state park, the land was privately owned by railroad magnates, including the influential Harriman family. (Averell Harriman was Commerce Secretary under President Harry Truman and later served as governor of New York.) Wanting to ensure that the land would not be developed, the family gifted it to Idaho.
Will HB 496 Take That Gift Away?
Given to Idaho in 1963, the Harriman family had several conditions that had to be met. One of the primary conditions was that the state was required to establish a parks department staffed by professionals “on the basis of merit alone.” Essentially, the Harriman family did not want the department to be politicized. Since that time, the director of Idaho Parks and Recreation has been appointed by the board, based on merit.
If the condition in the gift deed were violated, the family could take the land back. The concern is that HB 496 would violate the Harriman gift agreement, turning the state park into a political football – exactly what the Harriman family wanted to avoid.
What’s more, it’s not up to a judge or a jury to determine whether the gift agreement has been violated:
"… if the [Harriman family] … determine that said prohibition has been violated this contract shall thereafter be null, void and of no effect … and all property devised, bequeathed or conveyed…revert to [the Harriman family heirs] …. [T]he People of the State of Idaho, their officers, agents, and representatives shall have no recourse in any court in any jurisdiction in the even that a determination that said prohibition has been violated shall be made as aforesaid."
Ask Your Representatives to Vote NO on HB 496
Harriman State Park is too valuable to become a political football. It’s not worth risking the gem of the state park system. In 1963, the Idaho Legislature and the people of Idaho agreed to the terms of the gift agreement. We agreed to keep Harriman State Park and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation insulated from politics. There’s no reason to go back on our word today. Take action now and let your representatives know that this Idaho gem needs to stay in public hands. [This action has ended.]