Politics & Government

State parks to stay open for time being

State Parks to stay open for time being None of Washington’s state parks will close this year.

A few weeks ago, Washington State Parks – facing a $23 million budget cut – announced plans to close up to 40 parks and cut the agency’s staff. The list of parks included Tolmie, Schafer and Millersylvania state parks in the South Sound.

The new 2009-2011 state budget, which awaits Gov. Chris Gregoire’s signature, includes enough money – in the form of an expected $23 million in “opt-ou t” donations from motor vehicle registrations and money from boater and trail rider gasoline taxes – to keep parks open.

People renewing their car or truck registrations will be charged a $5 donation toward state park operations unless they check a box to opt out of the donation.

The agency still will have to make cuts, spokeswoman Sandy Mealing said.

One regional office will be closed, and the Southwest Regional Office will be relocated to State Parks headquarters in Tumwater.

Some employees probably will lose their jobs, but a final decision will come during a State Parks Commission meeting May 19.

“We’re still doing as much cost savings as we can,” Mealing said. “We are not filling job vacancies, and there will be no big purchases.

“No parks will close this summer.”

However, the agency is discussing the possible transfer of these parks to local governments: Tolmie, Fort Ward, Wenberg, Fay Bainbridge and Lake Osoyoos.

Stet Palmer, who lives near Schafer State Park in Mason County, spent much of the spring campaigning against the park’s closure.

Palmer is delighted that the park will remain open, and he is rallying volunteers to repair flood damage and restore old Works Progress Administration buildings at the park.

“We’re pretty comfortable now that nobody is going to take our park away,” Palmer said while working at the park Wednesday afternoon. “In less than three weeks, we’ve had more than 600 hours of donated time. We’ve even got guys restoring some of the Works Progress Administration masonry and ironwork.”