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State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Dec 07, 2011 01:10 PM |

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission voted yesterday on a budget proposal that would result in the loss of 161 jobs at the agency. WTA explores what that would mean for hikers.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission met yesterday in Olympia to decide how to handle a likely 2011-2013 budget deficit of roughly $11 million. That's a daunting number, primarily made up of projected Discover Pass shortfall. In order to balance its budget the Commission voted unanimously on budget reductions and reserve level changes that will likely result in the loss of 161 jobs at the agency.

The cuts represent 121 field staff, 15 headquarters staff and 25 regional positions, but no park closures at this time. For hikers, these cuts will felt in a number of ways: through reduced hours and seasonal staffing at certain parks; less park maintenance on trails and also a reduced ability to manage volunteer maintenance; reduced garbage and other maintenance services; and more.

What's more, cuts of this magnitude have a ripple effect across the economy, since many people who work at State Park units live in local, rural communities where they purchase goods and buy houses, serve on PTAs and school boards and in general weave themselves into the fabric of life in these areas.

The Commission made a difficult choice with this vote (see meeting notes here). They could either close parks or reduce staffing. They chose to reduce staff for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a shuttered park still costs money. The agency is on the hook for the property and is accountable to the general public and to the park's neighbors for what happens there. Additionally, and perhaps most important, is the fact the many people bought Discover Passes with the assumption that parks would not close. The Commission chose to honor that public contribution.

As an aside, I want to challenge what I see as an air of defeatism among parks staff and commissioners. They seem to believe that the legislature wants to take them off the general fund entirely and convert them to a fee-for-service agency. However, in all my many conversations with legislators as WTA's policy staffer, I have yet to speak with one who wants the agency to fend for itself. The State Parks general fund appropriation of $17 million this biennium is small by historical standards. But the state is suffering, and the existence of the Discover Pass gave the legislature more comfort with cutting their general fund appropriation.

The legislature is clear that State Parks needs a mix of dedicated revenue like the Discover Pass, camping and other activity fees and appropriated dollars. This anomalous biennial budget should not be construed to represent the future of State Park funding.

Comments

State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs

Just a small correction, Federation Forest is not closed for the winter. The Interpretive Center is, but the actual park is open. Nolte State Park, located near Federation Forest is closed until April 1, however, this is a normal seasonal closure - budget woes aside.

Posted by:


kayaushk on Dec 07, 2011 03:42 PM

State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs

It's unfortunate that the parks people are taking the hit for the legislatures inability to initiate a fair discovery pass plan. I have yet to meet a park ranger who wasn't friendly, helpful and a total professional. The legislature turned many of these great folks into de facto "meter maids"... I'm guessing that sticking $100 tickets on people's windshields is not the average park rangers idea of a good time. And one look at most trailhead parking areas demonstrates that all the discovery pass accomplished was to chase away the vast majority of folks who used to enjoy these parks. The implementation of the discovery pass was a clear lose-lose situation. Had anyone in Olympia thought to ask, we could have told them this would be the outcome.

IMHO, Washington needs to model it's pass on the Oregon scheme. For example, I own 4 vehicles. In Oregon, I only need one pass. Washington expects me to pay $160 to buy 4!!!! I did purchase a pass this year but rarely use it because of the one pass/one vehicle situation. Instead, I have been hiking in Oregon or in national forests in Washington. If this issue is not corrected in 2012, I will likely NOT buy another discovery pass.

$25 is a much more reasonable amount to charge for these passes, at least starting out. And a $10 day pass to walk to the top of Beacon Rock is nothing short of insane. Discovery pass sales fell short of expectations? Imagine that... :(

I feel VERY bad for these park workers who are losing their jobs for reasons that have NOTHING to do with anything that they did wrong. The Washington legislature needs to get it's act together and fix this discovery pass debacle immediately. If not, I suspect that even less revenue will be generated in 2012, prompting yet another round of cuts and layoffs.

Posted by:


Easyrider on Dec 08, 2011 11:56 AM

State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs

I concur with Easyrider. I am an avid camper and hiker and i've found myself spending more time at national forests because of the costs. A NW forest pass gets me int many millions of acres for $30. Campsites only cost $8-16, whereas the last two state campgrounds i've stayed at were $21-23shot (all per night). The cost of enjoying our outdoors is driving people away to other activities.

Posted by:


nwroamer on Dec 08, 2011 11:56 AM

State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs

Not sure who the author's been talking to, but I worked for State Parks when the Discover Pass legislation went through. We were unambiguously told at the time that the legislature expected the agency to transition to an enterprise model, and that the money we got from the current budget was one-time transitional funding.

Posted by:


nwgal on Dec 07, 2011 09:04 PM

State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs

When I renew my vehicle license this month, I am required to purchase new plates due to the age of the plates. Fortunately, I have not yet filled in the license number on my Discover Pass, which I've had now for several months but not yet used. Does the pass become null and void if the plates change if a person has already filled in the plate number? Not only that, upon renewing the plates, the State asks for a volunteer donation of $5 for parks.

Also, at Mount Spokane State Park, it's terribly confusing where a person needs a Sno Park Permit and a Discover Pass, or where you just need the Discover Pass. And now, this is just another added expense at a time when I'm needing to cut back.

One aspect I see in my area is the State's lack of volunteer outreach that could alleviate some of the burden.

In these difficult economic times, I don't mind paying a reasonable amount to use the public lands and giving some of my time. But, the last thing I want is more layers of passes, permits and fees. I would prefer to purchase one permit with a fee based on the type of activities I would be doing along with an option for a discount based on my volunteer time.

Reasonable fees, a simplified outdoor recreation permitting process, and volunteerism is what I favor.

Posted by:


Laurie Fleming on Dec 08, 2011 10:07 PM

State Parks To Cut 161 Jobs

I'm an avid hiker, and so I decided to purchase my pass. I also take my younger son to St. Edwards State Park, to play on the beautiful, community-built play structure. Before the pass was required, kids from all walks of life could be seen running around and having a blast. Now the parking lot is half full, and only with the vehicles of the more affluent. What's wrong with this picture?

Posted by:


RestStep on Dec 14, 2011 12:51 PM