Friday, January 14, 2011

The State of our State Parks: Not good

Below is an open letter from the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission on the state of funding for our state parks. Read it and feel free to comment both to the commission and to your elected representatives. Feel free too to leave a comment here. As most of you know I have been very critical of the way we have been funding (rather lack of funding) our parks for the past several years. I have been deeply impressed with Oregon's solutions for funding their parks and I wish that we can adopt a few of those methods here. In a perfect world it would be nice to have our legislators (with the governor's insistence)fully fund our parks. But it is not going to happen-it didn't happen during our boom years. Therefore we are left with two choices: to accept (onerous to many) user fees or a greatly reduced state park system. I'm willing to pay for our parks-they are too valuable to be sold off or left to languish. Evidently many of my fellow citizens are vehemently against user fees. And while I respect your opinions and understand the principles that you stand on-I ask you then how are we going to keep our parks from being shut down and/or sold? I welcome your solutions-and I hope that we can all weather this economic climate to get our parks through this very trying time.

Governor’s 2011-13 budget moves State Parks off general fund tax, supports user-based fees to keep parks operating

Dear state parks friend,

The start of the 2011 legislative session finds State Parks at a crossroads. Now, more than ever, donations tied to vehicle license tabs are needed to bridge the budget gap, as we potentially move from an agency that relies on general fund state tax dollars to one that may rely primarily on user fees.

In response to the state budget crisis, the Governor’s budget makes dramatic reductions in basic health, social and education programs and in the mix proposes a reduction of 70 percent of the agency’s general fund tax support in the 2011-13 biennium, which begins July 1, 2011. This would leave $20 million in one-time tax support to help the agency transition to a funding base built on new user fees. Then in 2013-15, there would be no general fund tax support, and State Parks would rely on user fees alone. In addition, the State Parks Commission knows that it will have to manage the park system differently in order to sustain it in these times.

Faced with the prospect of losing tax support for parks operations, the Commission believes that user-based fees are the best and fairest option we have to operate the park system, because it relies upon those who use the parks to pay for them. We are optimistic that this could support the system. We are already deeply involved in the Governor’s reform initiative and are working together with other natural resource agencies to find savings and efficiencies. As part of this effort, State Parks, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources are exploring the idea of charging a reasonable fee for a single permit that would provide access to state parks and recreation lands.

If the Legislature includes the permit/fee in its final budget this spring, one model being considered would enable vehicle owners to buy their recreation permit at reduced cost when they renew their vehicle license tabs through the Department of Licensing. Without the permit/ fee in the next biennium, parks all over the state could be reduced to zero service.

While we wait for things to unfold this legislative session, your donations are still very much needed to help us keep operating through the current budget period and into the next.

For more information about the donation program and current charts showing monthly donation levels, visit www.parks.wa.gov/donations/ and public comments are always welcome via e-mail to public.information@parks.wa.gov. We will provide you with periodic updates on the State Parks budget and parks services.

Thank you for your support,

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commiss
ion

4 comments:

Alecia the Round Rover said...

Well again I know I don't always share a popular opinion, but I do believe that the users should be the payees of maintenance fees in the face of potential closures. Daily use fees (and more importantly a discounted annual pass) that are REASONABLE are the best option, IMO. But I say reasonable because the most recent news I read from the DNR states that they are considering a $10/person/day fee- which I do not find reasonable. I do believe that the State Parks joining forces with the DNR (and also WDFW who has already joined forces with DNR) is potentially a good idea- one project, one pass, one agency (I would assume) to manage the pass. At this point in time the WDFW is stating those potential fees would be $40/person over the age of 19/year (http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/landline/). More reasonable, I suppose, then $10/person/day. As the Organizer of a rather large group of hikers, many of which are inexperienced, I’m not so sure I would ask my occasional hikers to spend $10 for a two-hour or less hike. I would probably avoid all WDFW, DNR, and State Parks and instead be spending more time on trails covered by the NW Forest Pass. I think that’s unfortunate, but there you have it.

Becca said...

State Parks needs to make sure it maintains and markets a separate pass, even if one that combines agencies is offered.

State Parks has been discussing $10-$15/car/year for day use which is MUCH cheaper than the other natural resource agencies. Emphasizing a combined pass will leave the casual State Parks user with the impression that they're going to have to pay outrageous fees just to access State Parks.

Craig said...

@Alecia-I agree with you in that the pass must be reasonable in price, easy to administer and a joint pass would be nice-
@Becca-interesting point that would make the joint pass not such a good idea- $15 a year is a bargain though-especailly if it keeps our parks open-we can't raise camping fees much more-they are getting pretty high-

Pocahontas hiker said...

We live in Florida, but come to Washington several times a year. We always have bought an annual National Park Pass and we would gladly pay a fee for a state park pass!