BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana State Parks is taking comments on a plan to turn over management of Madison Buffalo Jump State Park near Three Forks to the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The DNRC recently found out it owns the land and, by law, is required to make money from state trust lands. So it asked the state parks division to pay $4,272 annually to lease the property with a 2 percent annual increase. State parks says it pays about $15,000 a year to maintain the site that only takes in about $1,800 from fewer than 2,000 visitors annually.
"We have been trying to trim down the number of parks," said Parks Division Director Van Genderen. "The Madison Buffalo Jump is significant, but we already have a buffalo jump in our park system. So let's open this for public comment so they can get involved and provide commentary on whether it should stay a state park or some other agency should manage it."
Montana State Parks also manages the First Peoples Buffalo Jump, which is one of the largest such sites in the country and located west of Great Falls.
Experts say the Madison Buffalo Jump was used by American Indians for 2,000 years, and as recently as 200 years ago, to run buffalo off a cliff. Various tribes over the years, including the Shoshone, Salish, Crow and Blackfeet, built rock walls to funnel bison toward the cliff edge. Tepee rings and bones have been excavated at the base of the cliff by archaeologists.
Chere Jiusto, director of the Montana Preservation Alliance, wants the state to consider other options.
"I think it is premature to take this to the public for comment because there's so much we don't have information on," Jiusto said. "When you look at the list of alternatives to analyze, I don't believe those are alternatives — they may be options but not alternatives to one another."
Shawn Thomas, the DNRC land trust department administrator, said his agency isn't in the park business would likely lease the property to a private party for grazing cattle. He said the area might remain open to the public, but it wouldn't be managed as a park.
"We are entertaining the opportunity to retain the current use, but have to be compensated," Thomas said. "We are interested in pursuing any option."
Jiusto was against allowing cattle onto the site.
"For livestock to graze over this cultural treasure, grazing and degrading the archaeological site is potentially inviting the destruction of the site," Jiusto said.
Les Davis, a prominent Montana archaeologist who helped FWP develop the state park, also had qualms about the site changing hands.
"We are no longer unaware of its meaning and its values to the people of Montana and visitors," Davis said. "I'm not persuaded an agency without personnel to handle it should be its inheritor."
Information from: Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com