The Washington Legislature left state parks out in the cold four years ago. Tourism promotion, too.
The disregard shown two of what together are one of the state’s big economic drivers is almost as breathtaking as the view from the bridge spanning Deception Pass.
If only more travelers knew where the pass is, and that it’s not a mountain pass, but the chasm separating the north end of Whidbey Island from the mainland.
With the state tourism office shuttered, the Washington Tourism Alliance became the wholly privately funded promoter of travel to the state. No other state fails to fund tourism in some way, and it looks like the negligence will continue. Legislation that would have created a statewide room tax to support travel promotion has not made it to the floor of either chamber.
It’s the Olympic backhand to a $22 billion industry generating $2 billion in state and local taxes.
And, speaking of passes, the Discovery Pass that was supposed to offset the loss of state funding for parks has been slow to do any such thing.
Park users are charged $30 for yearly Discovery Passes, or $10 for one-day passes. Officials rosily projected the new fees would generate $23.4 million the first year. They missed by $10 million, so the ax fell on almost one-third of park employees statewide.
Staff for Spokane-area parks was cut 40 percent, yet the diminished staff was handed responsibility for more parks. The successful preservation and ongoing operation of Riverside and Mount Spokane parks (to name two) is a credit to alliances with counties and cities, support from businesses like Avista and REI, and thousands of hours of volunteer work on trails and other assets.
To attract more visitors, area parks held 175 special events last year.
“We’re trying to manage our way out of the crisis,” said Riverside State Park manager Chris Guidotti.
Some parks are trying “glamping” – luxury camping on platforms, and lots of amenities – or value-pricing individual campsites by desirability. For the wilderness-impaired, Wi-Fi may soon be an option.
The innovations and a public now more receptive to the Discovery Passes have helped grow revenues substantially; from $40 million in the 2007-2009 biennium to a projected $95 million for the next biennium.
But with $470 million in delayed maintenance, and growing, the Parks and Recreation Commission asked for $54 million in general funds for the biennium. The governor and House countered with $29 million. And the Senate $5 million, half the current appropriation.
Even if the parks can earn $107 million in fees, etc., the Senate projects – $10 million over commission, governor and House estimates – the parks end up with 10 percent less money than the governor and House allocate.
Necessity forced parks managers to innovate, and user-pays is always good practice, but assets that generate the kind of returns parks and tourism do need constant reinvestment. The state, and the Senate in particular, is shorting Washington citizens.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.