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County parks rely on volunteers

Fri., May 13, 2011

Officials match limited funds to neighborhood help

Spokane County parks officials are preparing for summer with the assumption that last year’s budget crunch is the new normal.

Parks Director Doug Chase is planning a more sustainable austerity plan that increasingly relies on volunteers.

So far, he said, neighborhood groups have stepped up with about $40,000 worth of assistance.

“We’re kind of hoping that the public is adjusting to our new world,” Chase recently told county commissioners.

As county officials take a longer view of their financial dilemma, park users won’t be asked again to wait for economic recovery to use a restroom.

Restroom closures were avoided at seven parks last year by transferring $15,500 from the Parks Department’s capital budget.

This year, county commissioners supplemented the parks budget with about $15,000 in rental-car tax money.

Except in two parks where portable toilets are less expensive to operate, regular restrooms all will be open this summer.

However, Chase estimates it would take $310,000 to restore park services to their traditional level. So he has adopted a let’s-make-a-deal policy to encourage donations of labor, supplies and money.

“I’ve tried to work with each group to find the best way to match what they’re bringing to the table,” Chase said.

For example, he agreed to water Gleneden Park, north of Spokane, when Girl Scouts Emily Busch and Lauren Champlin offered to arrange mowing, weeding and litter-control.

At another North Sidepark, Pine River, volunteers will mow the grass and pay for irrigation. In exchange, the Parks Department will provide garbage service.

Volunteers also have signed up to help Camelot, Bear Lake, Fish Lake and Northwood parks.

Garbage service was limited last summer and will largely disappear from county parks this summer. Park users are asked to pack out their own garbage.

Chase said that policy was tried last year at Bear Lake Park with “some relatively good success.”

“This is a real simple way that the public can really help us out,” Chase said, noting garbage service costs about $80,000 a year.

Where there is service, it may be a single Dumpster instead of a network of cans.

As a halt to watering proved costly in some cases last year, Chase said, the garbage experiment “also certainly has an opportunity to backfire, but we hope that it doesn’t. … We’re learning as we go.”

Gleneden Park was hit hard by last year’s water curtailment. This year, it is one of the greatest beneficiaries of volunteer help.

In addition to Busch and Champlin’s neighborhood campaign, Chase said Windermere real estate offices throughout the county have adopted Gleneden for their annual community-service project, which will include planting donated trees.

Chase said lack of irrigation at Gleneden Park last year killed about a dozen 2- to 5-inch diameter trees and about 50 saplings worth about $4,100. Labor to plant that many trees would roughly double the cost, he said.

The dead trees – mostly Western white pines and Western red cedars – will be replaced with less-thirsty Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines.

Chase said a beetle infestation, not lack of water, was responsible for the loss of 60 mature Ponderosa pines at Northwood Park, next to Brentwood Elementary School.

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