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MT - Does Ackley Lake fit the bill of a state park?

Liz Carr points to the blue spot marked “Ackley Lake” on a table in the Tall Boys Tavern. The wood-burned roadways and landmarks surrounding her beloved home of Hobson decorate the top of a table her father-in-law Clint Carr constructed for the tavern she co-owns with her mother-in-law Valerie Carr.

Carr can’t imagine what will happen to Hobson if Ackley Lake is removed from the Montana State Parks system. In an effort to mend years of problems, staffing deficiencies and financial issues, the Montana State Parks and Recreation Board is working to redefine what it means to be a Montana State Park, and Ackley Lake may no longer fit the bill. “I would say this affects us in a huge way,” Carr said. “Some people don’t even know Hobson is here. Closing that door would have a huge impact on us.”

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When she thinks of the future of Ackley Lake, Carr thinks of her tavern, an old opera house and dance hall, that was restored by her father-in-law and husband, where the walls are decorated with chicken photography from her sister-in-law Loni Carr. Her business thrives on the tourism brought by people passing through Hobson on their way to Ackley Lake. As Carr says, it’s a family affair. It’s hard to imagine the Tall Boys Tavern surviving solely on revenue from the town of 200 people. And Carr is not the only one concerned. With what feels like a bull’s-eye on Ackley, Carr created an online petition in support of saving the state park with the goal of reaching 100 signatures. She surpassed her goal on the first day the petition was released. The petition has 250 signatures from people all over the country. The petition has been commented on and signed by supporters from across Montana, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, California and Ohio. “I think it’s important for Hobson’s economy, the community at large and families — my own included,” Carr said. “It has so much more value to people than just camping, fishing and boating. Kids used to take swimming lessons in the lake. It gives Hobson much more exposure.”

Liz Carr, co-owner of Tall Boys Tavern in Hobson, began

Ackley Lake, Montana State Parks marketing and communications manager Pat Doyle said, is incredibly significant and relevant to its surrounding communities, but it lacks the statewide significance necessary to make it a top-tier park. Jim Homison has also joined the fight for Ackley Lake. He has distributed petitions and spread the word about what could happen to the state park. “I don’t normally do causes, but this one hit close to home,” Homison said. “I’m doing this because I think it’s the right thing to do. From my perspective, I’d be content if it was a fishing access as long as the level of service stayed the same.” “I think people are upset because we are in a very underserved area of Montana,” Homison said. “This is one of the few places with boating, fishing and camping in the area. It’s ice-fished from the time it’s safe until it’s unsafe.” Many families grew up driving their kids down the gravel road to Ackley Lake. For the people in central Montana, Ackley Lake is the best and only managed spot for recreation. “We don’t have a lot of water recreation in this area,” said Corrie Knerr, Hobson resident. “It’s not a huge lake, but it’s our lake, and we’re proud of it. You can boat and water-ski on it — it’s not a long trip, but you can do it. To me, this feels like a step backward when we need to be moving forward for the people.”

Left to right, Harry Rouse, Brad Beard and Cherie Letourneau

Montana State Parks doesn’t own the land Ackley Lake is located on. The area is rented from the Department of Natural Resource Conservation, and the lease expired in December 2015. The Parks Board is currently in discussion to extend the lease until 2017. Mary Sexton, Parks Board vice chairwoman, said she expects this to happen. However, the future of the lake beyond this possible extension is unclear. The park could still lose its state park designation if the Parks Board is unable to strike a partnership with an organization that will supply proper funding and maintenance for the area. This move is also part of the board’s effort to create a united brand for Montana State Parks. “Calling all of our parks ‘state parks’ hurts the best parks,” Doyle said. “Tower Rock, for example, shares a parking lot with a salvage yard. Calling both that and First People’s (Buffalo Jump) state parks … how likely is a person to stop at First People’s based on their experience at Tower Rock? We get calls about people who go to state parks and complain that there’s no camping. We need to align what people can expect to be able to do when they see the state park name.”

Full Article-> Related story: State Parks Reorganization: How did we get here?