Posts Tagged ‘Washington State Parks’

Fifth Wheel Mountain Camping cartoonIn the face of dwindling tax funds and fee revenue far below expectations, Washington’s state parks have eliminated or reduced about a third of their full-time positions during the past four years.

Park visitors can see the impact of these cuts in decreased maintenance and staff presence, said Sandy Mealing, public information officer for Washington State Parks and Recreation. State parks receive an average of 40 million visitors annually.

Since 2008, they have decreased full-time staff positions from 595 to 395. The positions cut include construction and maintenance workers, managers and park rangers.

Parks need to keep rangers on duty during the peak season, from May to September, Mealing said. Of 189 ranger positions at more than 100 parks, 66 have been cut from full-time to five- or eight-month stints focused on these busy months.

“The problem with that is, when the parks are not as busy with visitors, that’s when our staff do maintenance,” Mealing said. “So now that we’ve had to reduce 66 of those positions, those positions won’t be available to help with maintenance during the off-season, which means things don’t get taken care of.”

The wave of cuts stems from both a dramatic decrease in general fund tax dollars and a lack of income from user fees. In the 2007-09 biennium, state parks received and spent $94.3 million from Washington’s general fund. In the current biennium, that allotment fell to $17.2 million.

To make up for the lack of tax support, the state Legislature instated the Discover Pass in 2011. The pass costs $10 for day use of a state park or a $30 annual fee. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission projected about $32 million in revenue from the Discover Pass for the fiscal year. However, the actual revenue amounts to less than half of what they hoped for, totaling $15.7 million.

“The system is not sustainable at the level we’re at,” Mealing said.

Visitors at Battle Ground Lake State Park has been lower both this summer and last summer than it was in years prior to the Discover Pass. Many visitors are disappointed by the day use fee. Though campers are accustomed to overnight fees for sites and utilities, the day use fee is new to Washington.

Mealing said it is normal for the public to object to new fees, and this fee resistance usually lasts for about three years. The Discover Pass has been in place for a little more than one year.

“Parks have never been free. They never have been, never will be,” Mealing said. “I think we owe it to the generations before us and the generations after us to be good stewards of these natural resources.”

Check back with OregonLive.com for more details on the struggles of Washington’s state parks.

The Washington state parks system cutbacks have reached all levels of the agency, said department spokeswoman Virginia Painter. The most recent wave of job cuts won’t mean putting 160 people out of work, she said. Many of those positions will become seasonal or part-time, with existing employees taking new assignments largely based on seniority. Some may have to re-apply. But as many as 50 parks workers could lose their jobs entirely, Painter said.

The reductions come as lawmakers in Olympia prepare to close a gaping hole in the state budget. At the same time, the $30-per-year Discover Pass — rolled out last summer as a new requirement aiming to boost funding for state parks — has fallen well short of revenue targets.

The new pass, which took effect July 1, was projected to raise $65 million within two years. But in its first four months, the program collected only $7.2 million, according to the state parks department.

Painter attributed at least some of that to a hasty rollout just weeks after the legislature approved the program earlier this year. When it finally did start, park visitors knew “very little” about the new requirement, she said. And many park rangers were lenient about enforcement at first.

Painter said the department is hoping for better results during the peak season next year, with more people aware of and open to the Discover Pass. A legislative tweak proposed this month could also make the pass transferable between vehicles. A program like the Discover Pass takes time to get fully off the ground, Painter said.

“We’re fairly hopeful that it will build,” she said.

Full Story…

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Washington State Parks rangers and managers of other state lands are gearing up for the debut of the Discover Pass, which will be required for motor vehicle access to most state lands starting in July.

State officials aren’t expecting a jubilant reception for the new permit created by the Washington Legislature.

The pass will be required for many mushroomers, berry pickers, firewood cutters, geocachers and others not familiar with paying to recreate on state lands.

Online responses to state agency websites have been largely negative.

“We’ll be making a special effort to explain the pass,” said Chris Guidotti, Riverside State Park manager in Spokane. “Without it we’d be closing parks.”

With some exceptions, the $30 annual pass ($10 daily) will be required on all street-legal vehicles, including motorcycles, in state parks as well as on lands managed by the departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife.
Staff from the three agencies have been meeting since April to work out details of the program.

The law was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire on May 12 to help plow through the state budget crisis without closing parks or other state-land facilities, such as fishing access sites and DNR campgrounds.

The law takes effect Friday, but state officials say they won’t begin enforcing the pass requirement until July 5, after the Independence Day holiday.

The passes can be purchased online or wherever Washington hunting and fishing licenses are sold. Spokane County alone has 42 hunting and fishing license dealers ranging from sporting goods shops to Wal-Mart.

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