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Washington State Parks Facing Cuts, Closures

Posted by Steve Duda at Mar 05, 2009 04:15 PM |

How do you fill a budget gap of $8.3 billion?  According State Senator Derek Kilmer, if the state were to close all state parks, state prisons, state universities and community colleges, and cut all state-run programs for the elderly, you might come close.

Fortunately, no one’s talking about closing all of our state parks, but the agency is going to have to figure out how to shoulder some of the burden.  The governor recently asked Washington State Parks to figure out how to cut its budget by 23%, or $22.9 million, with direction to transfer some park properties to other jurisdictions, reduce service at others, and completely mothball still more. 

Responding to that direction, State Parks has conducted an exhaustive analysis of existing properties and cost savings that might be realized by taking the above actions.  The resulting list includes 33 parks that would be “mothballed,” or temporarily closed.  The public could still access the listed parks, but only by foot.  Parking areas and restroom facilities would be closed and park staff would either be reassigned or laid off.  State Parks would realize roughly $8.4 million in savings should they and the Legislature ultimately agree on this approach.

Many of the parks on the list are icons.  Many are places where WTA volunteers have invested thousands of hours of time: Beacon Rock, Wallace Falls, Mount Spokane and Larrabee, to name just a few.  Mothballing these parks would represent a significant loss to hikers, campers, mountain bikers, equestrians and families looking for a day in the woods.  We understand that everybody will feel pain during this budget cycle, but we have some specific concerns that we hope State Parks and the legislature can address as it moves toward a final decision. 

Our primary concern is with enforcement.  Experience has shown that unmanaged public lands invite problems down the road, either due to the ravages weather and time or to illegal activity — or both.  Neglecting parks, even for a couple of seasons, could create massive capital problems down the road.  Furthermore, closing parks does more than simply cut a government service; it shuts down an economic engine.  In looking at closures, State Parks must take into account the potential impact on local communities, either from a reduction in tourist spending or from the simple headaches of having parking (and restroom use, for that matter) spill over onto neighboring streets.   

State Parks is proposing a series of public meetings and other stakeholder conversations in the next two months to finalize the list.  Watch this blog space for more news on State Parks developments.   

The budget situation in Olympia this year is dire.  Sure, we could look at new taxes and cuts to other programs, but we’re hard pressed to figure out how State Parks could dodge the bullet entirely.  We hope the agency can come up with a solution that preserves a reasonable level of access while also ensuring the security of future park users, park resources, and neighboring communities.

Comments

There are solutions besides mothballing

There are several choices that are far better than mothballing and liquidating our cultural and natural heritage.

1. Bring back a day use fee. Almost every other state has a day use fee and the parks don't suffer for it-they benefit from it. Make the fee nominal and make it temporary until we get out of this economic mess.

2. Consider privatization of certain concessions (like camping for instance) at some of our parks to reduce government expenditures and to bring in revenue.

3. Consider a lottery to help pay for parks. Oregon and other states utilize this method.

4.Sell bonds like New Jersey is doing to keep their parks open.

BUT DO NOT- ABSOLUTELY DO NOT LIQUIDATE OUR PARKS!
I find it absurd that we are getting ready to celebrate our park's centennial in 4 years and this is how we'll show it by closing and liquidating our parks! I am absolutely fed up with our legislatures of the past 20 plus years lack of commitment to our state parks.

To all my fellow citizens-call and write your governor and legislators and demand that our parks not be casualties due to their reckless spending from the last four years. And demand that they start showing more respect for our cultural and natural heritage.

Posted by:


Craig Romano on Mar 05, 2009 05:52 PM

There are solutions besides mothballing

not sure about the others but #1 I have a problem with. Washington used this system for awhile(at least on the coast) and weather the population just wasn't used to it or just didn't like it, it didn't work. I personally didn't go to ANY state parks for about 3 years while this was in effect. I find it ridiculous that I should have to pay to visit a park in my state when over half of the visitors are out of state(just a guess but it seems about right). Make the out of state visitors pay a fee and give the regular in-state visitors a free pass is what I say. It's either that or I start parking outside the park boundaries and hike in like I used to when they had a parking fee. hopefully they either fix it like I have suggested or not add a day use fee. I would honestly pay more taxes to keep the parks day use fee free since I visit them frequently. that's just my take on the matter but I think other readers share the same view.

Posted by:


Valgard on Mar 06, 2009 02:10 AM

Either way you pay or lose your parks

Valgard-

If you're willing to pay higher taxes to keep parks open I can't understand why you'd be opposed to paying a day use fee. Either way you pay-and by having a day use fee you're guaranteed that your money will go directly to the park instead of the general fund to where God knows where that money will end up. Also- fees should be the same for all users in-state or out-of-state. If you start charging more for out of staters than expect those states to reciprocate. Besides-you don't want to punish people- and most out-of-staters would be willing to pay a nominal fee as would most in-staters. This aversion to paying a day use fee here in Washington state is beyond me. Either we come up with a way to pay for our parks or we will lose them. It is that clear! Oregon has day use fees. British Columbia has day use fees. New Hamopshire has day use fees, New Jersey has day use fees, etc., etc. And these states are NOT closing thier parks. I would gladly pay $3 a visit or $30 a year to keep one of the finest park systems in the union open and runnning. I hope more will too-or its arrivaderci to some of our favorite parks!

Posted by:


Craig Romano on Mar 06, 2009 08:22 AM

Either way you pay or lose your parks

We totally agree with all of Craig Romano's comments! We, too, would gladly pay a fee to keep all of our State Parks open.

Posted by:


Bob and Barb on Mar 06, 2009 01:23 PM

State Parks a priority in Florida

Interesting to note that in Florida, with one of the country's largest state park systems, citizens and the governor have rallied to keep their parks open and functioning. Facing state park closures, citizens in the Sunshine state agreed to increased fees ($80 for an annual Pass)-in which many agreed was a real bargain to keep thier parks open. But it gets better- the governor, republican Charlie Crist increased park funding after this!
http://floridahikes.com/[…]/

Posted by:


Craig Romano on Mar 08, 2009 03:52 PM

fee's

maybe we do need fee's. but I'm honestly to poor to afford them. so if they decide to reenact fee's or close parks that I frequent. I'm still going to visit, but I'll just hike in instead of parking in the "designated" parking spots. I know its immoral or whatever. but I'm not going to let a locked gate or a toll booth stop me from hiking on trails I always hike. heck, I'm even the kind of person that will pick up garbage and move fallen logs and whatnot from the trail when I hike, so its not like I don't help out.

Posted by:


Valgard on Mar 12, 2009 03:55 AM

State Parks


   I can not afford fees either, they gave me a free pass last time but getting it was a real PITA. It is a crime that 1 in 50 American Children are homeless and the state parks and other services for the public are being robbed to pay Goldman, AIG, Bank of America and others. Our government is being privatized and this will only be good for big biz.

Posted by:


mossy mom on Mar 25, 2009 09:40 PM

There's still time to save our parks - write your elected officials!

You all have a lot of great ideas, and none of you want our parks to close. What you can do:

1. Send your thoughts, ideas and suggestions, succinctly, to:

Your district's state senator:
http://www.leg.wa.gov/Senate/Senators/

Your district's state legislator:
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Default.aspx

Governor Gregoire: http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/

The Director of State Parks: rex.derr@parks.wa.gov or:
PO Box 42650 Olympia, WA 98504-2650. The main office phone number for state parks is 360-902-8500.

2. Are you on Facebook? Join a group rallying to save the parks: http://www.facebook.com/gro[…]?gid=68557313304&ref=nf
Then, pass the group invitation along to friends and family who live in Washington, love the outdoors, or appreciate inexpensive recreation.

3. Post this group's URL on relevant pages - other facebook groups, online newspaper articles, hiking blogs, to help get the word out.

Park closures happened in Illinois, and it will happen in Washington unless citizens take action:

http://skinnymoose.com/[…]/

The State Parks Commission will not make any final decisions until the Legislature approves a 2009-11 budget.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn April 26, and a special meeting of the commission will be called a week or two afterward.

That's at least 8 weeks to make a difference.

Posted by:


northwesterner on Mar 15, 2009 03:47 PM