Washington State Parks Facing Cuts, Closures
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.