April 15, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: Washington state parks are being sold short

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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Saturday and next Tuesday are free days at Washington state parks. Spokane is blessed with two of the best – Mt. Spokane and Riverside – that provide easy access to city folk who want to fish, ski, hike, or just take in the views.

Take advantage of these incredible assets, and as you do consider what value you might place on them as a recreational resource and how they might best be promoted in the name of economic development.

The state has sold them short in recent years, and it shows.

According to a report last fall from the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission, the replacement value of state park buildings is almost $1.2 billion. They average 46 years in age. They need almost $500 million in repairs and upgrades.

The Legislature, hoping that a new Discovery Pass would offset a cut in general fund support from $94.5 million in the 2007-09 biennium to $8.5 million in the current budget, has had to provide more support because revenues from pass sales fell far short of projections. Park managers, meanwhile, cut back staff by about one-third and made other adjustments to keep park gates open.

They also introduced reforms aimed, in part, at operating the parks more like businesses. On April 1, for example, the department instituted a rate structure for park entry, camping and other use that reflect seasonal changes in demand. The parks may add yurts or other shelters and undertake promotional campaigns that induce campers to stay longer.

A Transformation Strategy adopted a year ago also calls for establishing more partnerships with businesses, nonprofits and tribes.

A Washington Policy Center report released last fall noted the state of California’s decision to place the management of some parks threatened with closure in the hands of private contractors. Nonprofits also stepped up to take responsibility for many parks.

Last week, a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee met for the first time to consider more ways to push the transformation forward. The membership includes outfitters and tourism officials, environmentalists, businessmen and representatives from state and federal recreation agencies. There are four non-voting members from the Legislature.

Their report is due by Sept. 19.

Clearly, the old habits of park management were not working. The reforms already underway will not be thorough enough to relieve the continued pressure from shrinking state funding, pressure that will likely increase when the Legislature reconvenes in January and confronts demands for more education funding.

Bolder measures can make Washington’s parks the gems they should be, attracting recreational users of all kinds and increasing business opportunities. Neglect is another form of abuse. It has to stop.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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