State lawmakers created the state Board of Park Commissioners, the launch pad for a state parks system that today includes 117 parks. 35 heritage sites, 13 interpretive centers and more than 700 historic structures spread across 120.000 acres.
In 2013, the state Legislature should affirm and support the 100-year-old park system by ensuring it has general fund support sufficient to sustain it.
Its become increasingly clear that state Parks cant survive on a fee-based funding system think Discover Pass without suffering draconian cuts in park openings, services and employees.
The $30 annual pass $10 for a day pass brings in about 50 percent of the revenue originally predicted, or an estimated $26 million in the 2013-15 state parks budget.
At the very least, the Legislature should match the Discover Pass money with general fund money, which is what would happen if House Bill 1935 is passed into law. On the Senate side, Substitute Senate Bill 5653 commits up to $27 million in general funds to support state parks over the next two years.
Either one of these bills they have bipartisan support would give the state Parks and Recreation Commission a chance to regroup from the dark days of 2012 when it had to chop the full-time work force from 595 to 395 employees. The cuts in employment, in some cases turning full-time park rangers into seasonal employees, kept all the parks open, but its been tough on agency morale.
These are not our salad years, state parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter said.
Lest we forget, as recent as 2007-09, general fund money comprised 68 percent of the state parks budget. That compares to 12 percent in the most recent biennium and zilch, zip, nada in the next two-year budget cycle, unless state lawmakers restore a modicum of general fund money to state parks.
Former Lacey mayor and state Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mark O. Brown is working the halls of the state Capitol hard these days, making an impassioned plea for the state parks cause.
I think weve turned the corner on the false notion that state parks can be self sufficient, he said during a brief break from lobbying. There is a recognition in the House and Senate among Democrats and Republicans, including leadership, that general fund money is needed to keep parks open.
Both the House and Senate bills have cleared their respective policy committees and continue to grind forward.
Its difficult financial terrain and political terrain, Brown acknowledged. But it would be a tragedy to celebrate the centennial birthday by closing parks.
That would not be much of a celebration.
When arguing on behalf of state parks funding, is easy to emphasize the recreational access those parks provide in environmental settings as diverse as the state has to offer Puget Sound islands, old-growth forests, river gorges, lakes, ocean beaches, shrub-steppe dry lands and more. What is sometimes lost in the discussion is the economic value state parks provide.
While the data is a little stale, a 2002 economic study suggested that visits to state parks tens of millions of visits annually contributed $1.1 billion to the state economy in 2000. The report indicated that overnight visitors to state parks spent nearly $30 a day in nearby communities, and day visitors forked over about $15.70 per day.
A just released national study by the Outdoor Recreation Association found that outdoor recreation in this state generates $22.5 billion in consumer spending, $7.1 billion in wages, 227,000 direct jobs and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue. Some of that economic juice comes from state park visits.
We can argue for money because state parks and outdoor recreation is an economic driver especially in rural areas of the state, said Peter Reid, chair of the Washington State Parks Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group for state parks.
State parks is not asking for the moon. All but one state park system in the country relies in part on general tax support or some other type of dedicated revenue, such as lottery ticket sales. And the National Park Service only garners about 10 percent of its operations budget from park entrance fees and fees for service.
The citizens of this state have a mature, diverse state parks system that provides recreation and open space for fish and wildlife. The 100-year anniversary should be a time of celebration, and a time of renewed commitment by the state Legislature.
For more information about events celebrating the park systems centennial birthday at a state park near you, visit www.parks.wa.gov.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com