Outdoors

Riverside, Mount Spokane parks merging; rangers get pink slips

Visitors cross the river at the Bowl and Pitcher in Riverside State park near Spokane, Wash. Beginning in July, visitors will be required to have Washington's new Discover Pass on their vehicle. The $30 annual parking pass ($10 daily) will be required for access to all state parks as well as lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources and state wildlife recreation sites. (Dan Pelle)
Visitors cross the river at the Bowl and Pitcher in Riverside State park near Spokane, Wash. Beginning in July, visitors will be required to have Washington's new Discover Pass on their vehicle. The $30 annual parking pass ($10 daily) will be required for access to all state parks as well as lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources and state wildlife recreation sites. (Dan Pelle)

STATE PARKS — Riverside and Mount Spokane likely will be combined and full-time employees reduced by about 40 percent as Washington State Parks officials scramble to slash the agency’s budget.

A shortfall from lagging Discover Pass sales has left state parks strapped for cash after being cut off from most taxpayer funding by the Washington Legislature.

Decisions are still being made and changed daily after the Parks and Recreation Commission voted Tuesday to eliminate 161 of the agency’s 516 full-time positions.

“At this point, it looks like a done deal that Riverside and Mount Spokane will be combined,” Chris Guidotti, Riverside State Park manager, said today.  He was at his computer making recommendations to the headquarters staff on how the changes might be worked out.

Six of the 14 full-time positions will probably be eliminated, he said.

Riverside has nine full-time rangers plus one other staffer and Mount Spokane has five full-time positions, including three rangers and two staffers geared to road maintenance and equipment repair for the mountain roads.

Steven Christensen, Mount Spokane Park manager, was not available for comment.

“In some cases, full-time employees are being offered five-month positions,” Guidotti said.

“But as it looks today, Riverside and Mount Spokane soon will be operated by fewer people than operate Riverside alone.”

The State Parks and Recreation Commission already had eliminated 80 positions statewide since July 2008.

Riverside State Park covers about 10,000 acres in and around Spokane including the Centennial Trail, Columbia Plateau Trail and Little Spokane River Natural Area. Mount Spokane State Park includes 13,919 acres.

Meanwhile in Olympia, a few people are finally stepping up to say the Discover Pass was ill-conceived policy from the outset, setting the system up for less money, fewer park visits and eventually fewer parks.

Some people at Legislative hearings are making the case that the Legislature should not remove State Parks from General Fund appropriations.

Read on for a report from the Wenatchee World on the carnage to state parks in northcentral Washington.

Parks are paying the price as state cuts into budgets

By K.C. Mehaffey

The Wenatchee World

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Dec. 07—OLYMPIA — The top State Parks position in North Central Washington was eliminated Tuesday along with roughly 160 other managers and field staff in a budget-cutting decision by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Officials said it’s not yet clear what will happen with regional offices, including the one in Wenatchee.

Regional Parks Director Jim Harris — who heads Wenatchee’s regional office — was not available Tuesday or this morning to talk about the commission’s decision to cut all three of the state’s regional directors, including his position, or how the layoffs will mean for parks and employees here.

A few park rangers in the region also confirmed they were notified that their jobs will no longer exist after Jan. 1.

Some of those whose positions were cut may get other jobs within the agency, particularly if another retirement incentive is offered to help thin the ranks, said commission spokeswoman Virginia Painter.

The state agency currently has 515 employees, after losing some 90 full-time workers since 2008, she said.

”Right now, it’s like a great big puzzle,” she said. ”There’s going to be a lot more people affected, ultimately,” she added. And while many positions are being cut, there will be more seasonal employment so parks can be maintained during the summer season.

The layoffs are part of an $11 million cut necessary when the Discovery Pass didn’t bring in as much revenue as needed, as quickly as it was needed, she said. The pass was projected to generate $54 million for State Parks over two years, and only brought in $7.2 million in its first four months.

”The reason we’re doing this is so we can keep parks open,” Painter said. ”We’ve got to do something to live within our budget.”

More cuts will be needed if the state Legislature decides to cut a $17 million allocation from the general fund, designed to bridge the agency’s short-term funding needs, while Discover Pass sales are unstable.

After 2013, State Parks will be weaned from all funding, and must get all its revenue from the pass, campground fees and other income, such as donations.

Local park rangers were still uncertain Tuesday exactly what the cuts will mean in their own parks, but none were happy about it.

Sharon Soelter, area manager and the top ranger at Alta Lake State Park near Pateros, said she was notified her position is among those to be eliminated. She said she has no idea whether she’ll be eligible for another job somewhere else in the state.

Soelter said she can’t imagine how the state can operate on a seasonal model, since winter is when park rangers catch up on all their maintenance projects. She said although rangers are managers, they do a lot of the work in the field.

”I work in the campground, I clean the bathrooms. I was just out digging a hole to change a valve,” she said.

Dennis Mills, ranger at Twenty-five Mile Creek State Park near Chelan, said he, too, was notified his job is ”at risk.”

He said he’s worked for State Parks for 34 years, and believes he has enough seniority that he’ll still have a job, but it won’t be the one he has now.

Rick Lewis, ranger at Pearrygin Lake State Park near Winthrop, said in addition to losing an employee, he also has to figure out how to cut 25 percent of his own budget, which he currently spends on services ranging from garbage and power bills to heating, fuel and mechanic services.

”That’s outside the impacts of staffing. That’s my reality right now, is how we’re going to cut back on essentially what is non-discretionary spending.”

After 34 years with state parks, Lewis said, ”It’s difficult going into the unknown. I wish I had a tabletop I could pull out and see what spending is going to look like in five years. It would either reassure me, or make me really, really depressed.”




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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