I sat down at my State House desk last week for the first time this summer.
My eye caught my desk calendar with the June page showing. I turned the June page and then the July page so that August was on top. I was reminded that I had not been in Concord except for one brief meeting of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee since the legislature recessed on June 22.
A meeting of the State Park System Advisory Council was the first reason I was in Concord. The council was created a couple of years ago as part of legislation I sponsored to help move the park system forward. Through that legislation, more attention has been focused on the long term maintenance and upgrading of parks facilities to meet the needs of New Hampshire citizens and visitors alike.
The council meets several times a year to be updated on the parks and recreation division of the Department of Resources and Economic Development. The council also has subgroups working on legislative initiatives and other opportunities for council members to advocate for the park system.
Interim Director Gail Wolek reported that revenue for the fiscal year that ended on June 30 was up 10 percent over the prior year; revenue in July was up six percent over July, 2010. And visitation to New Hampshire’s historic sites was also up. One manager summed things up saying this has been a "great summer so far."
"One could surmise that in this tough economy state parks for camping and day use are a good value for park visitors."
The recreation and parks division’s major capital project for the last couple of years has been the $14.5 million rebuilding and refurbishing of facilities at Hampton Beach. The project is 90 percent completed and should be finished on time, Nov. 30.
There are challenges, too. Chris Gamache, chief of the trails bureau, told the council that snowmobile registrations were down last year from roughly 63,000 to 57,000. He said "the economy finally caught up with this recreational area."
While the number of registrations was down, revenue from snowmobile registrations was up. That is due to a fee increase passed by the legislature in 2009 at the request of the snowmobile association. With trail maintenance costs rising and fewer volunteers, the snowmobile clubs felt they needed more money to keep trails in good order to meet the needs of snowmobilers.
It is rare that an advocacy group pushes for increased costs for their members. In this case, most of the money goes right back into trail maintenance and development for the snowmobilers.
Later in the week, parks system advocates were pleased to learn that Phil Bryce has been nominated by the Governor to be the new parks and recreation division director. Phil is known to many of us as he was the long time director of the division of forest and lands before leaving state government for a couple of years in the private sector. The Governor has chosen wisely.
Another reason I was in Concord was to attend to some bills I sponsored that had been re-referred by the Senate. Bills that have been re-referred were deemed not ready for passage but they had enough merit to hold them over for work between our June recess and the beginning of the 2012 session in January.
Here is an example of how the process works. At the request of the Department of Revenue Administration (DRA), I sponsored a bill (Senate Bill 41) which clarifies that when a DRA official enters private property to enforce timber and excavation laws, they may not be charged with criminal trespass.
Homeowners are protected as the bill also prohibits DRA officials from entering into any living quarters. The department felt current law is vague in this area and wanted to put certainty about the limits of entry while protecting DRA employees as they go about their work.
At a March public hearing, Jason Stock representing the Timberland Owners Association, asked some important questions. He and Steve Hamilton, Director of the Property Appraisal Division, have talked since and came to an agreement that the language and intent of the bill were satisfactory.
Their discussion and agreement provided the Senate Judiciary Committee with the chance to talk briefly about the bill and then vote to send it to the Senate floor with a recommendation of "ought to pass." The Senate will likely take up the bill at our first meeting in January, pass it and send it over the House for action there.
This one was easy, unlike many other bills.
Old Home Days celebrations continue and on Saturday it was my town of Lempster that held its annual events. There were the traditional activities including a parade as this small town welcomed those from away who return each year as well as those who live in town year round.
The 2011 celebration was highlighted by the presentation of a 19th century topographical map of the Sullivan County to the Lempster Historical Society. The rare map was donated by Jim and Mary Grenier in memory of their son, Ross Hilliard. Ross had discovered the map in his grandfather’s house a few years ago. This special gift creates a legacy that will be important to future generations of Lempster residents for which we are all thankful to Jim and Mary.
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