Game, Fish, Parks Department offers free visits to state parks

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By Dana Hess, Community News Service

PIERRE — If you’re ailing, a day at a South Dakota state park may be just what the doctor orders.
Game, Fish and Parks Department Secretary Kelly Hepler told a joint meeting of the House and Senate Agriculture and National Resources committees about a program called Park Prescriptions. The program allows a doctor to write a prescription for a free day at any South Dakota state park.
“What a neat opportunity,” Hepler said, noting that people who use parks and open spaces are three times as likely to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.
In his short overview of the GFP, Hepler noted those areas of concern that legislators may have heard about from their constituents. Those include the department’s efforts on nonresident waterfowl licenses, deer and mountain lion management plans, preference points for hunting license drawings, wildlife depredation management and aquatic invasive species.
Hepler said the department supports Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s bill to push back by three years the sunset date on the non-meandering waters law that was passed during last year’s special session.
“We’re still early in the process” of working with landowners who have flooded lands,” Hepler said. “I’m not hearing anybody say this bill doesn’t work.”
The bill may need some small changes, Hepler said. A legislative meeting concerning non-meandering waters is planned for Thursday, Jan. 18.
Hepler also reminded lawmakers that the two divisions in his department represent a big payoff for the state without much investment from the general fund.
The Wildlife Division, with a budget of $50.6 million, is funded through hunting and fishing licenses and a federal excise tax on hunting and fishing equipment. The Parks Division, with a budget of $39.2 million, uses federal funds, bond payments, park revenue, dedicated taxes and licenses, and $2.7 million from the state’s general fund.
For that $2.7 million from the general fund, according to Hepler, in 2016 the department served 7.5 million people who spent $1.33 billion.

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