A Memorial Day message: Time to give our state parks love and a little money
Palouse Falls State Park is way out in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Washington, yet the parking lot was full, tents dotted the lawn and visitors were trekking all over the place on a spring Saturday two weeks ago.
They were part of 33 million visits each year to Washington’s 130 very diverse state parks. Lucky visitors will see orcas on Sucia and Stuart islands in the San Juans, a wolf is reportedly in residence on Mount Spokane, and eyes should be kept peeled for rattlesnakes if you go off path at Gingko Petrified Forest or Palouse Falls.
In the words of Gov. Jay Inslee, however, our state park system has operated on “baling wire and duct tape” since the Great Recession.
It has lost 200 of its 595 personnel, built up a maintenance backlog and suffered cutbacks. The 347-acre South Whidbey State Park boasts 4,500 feet of marvelous shoreline on Admiralty Inlet and the Classic U old-growth forest. Yet, its campground is shut down from Oct. 1 to April 30.
All of which leads to a hint: When you get back from Memorial Day adventures in God’s great out-of-doors, take a moment to hassle your members of the Legislature.
Most of the public wisely tunes out drawn-out Olympia budget negotiations. Still, the inside football of the state capitol has outside consequences — very big consequences for our state parks.
The state Senate’s penny-pinching Republican-written budget proposal starves the state parks. It proposes a funding level $24 million lower than budget proposals from the House of Representatives and Gov. Jay Inslee.
The Senate budget provides just $5 million for park operations. It adds insult to injury by saying no park can be closed because of the funding lapse. It is a formula for deteriorating, poorly maintained, understaffed parks with minimal visitor programs and services.
Oh yes, by way of defending the budget, the Senate delivers an absurdly exaggerated estimate of Discover Pass revenues to the park system.
The House budget is far better, with $21 million for operations, plus $7.5 million in much needed money for expanding services and stewardship, promoting visitation to state parks and long-term reinvestment.
The governor appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission on Outdoor Recreation, which delivered a report outlining the recreation revenue generated by Washington State Parks. It talked about drawing more visitors, specifically recommending tactics for getting iPhone-addicted young people to appreciate the world around them.
As well, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition — a 25-year-old bipartisan creation of ex-Govs. Dan Evans and Mike Lowry — has weighed in on the value of habitat and recreation.
State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, the Republicans’ chief budget writer, made youth and the out-of-doors — specifically, his soccer coaching — a very big deal in his 2014 re-election race. Well, folks across Washington need state parks for other outdoor activities. A would-be governor should wise up to that.
We are paying more for outdoor services that used to be free.
The ranger truck had just done a Discovery Pass check when our group arrived at Palouse Falls two weeks ago. Hikers at national forest trailheads need to put a pass on their windshield or find themselves brought low with a ticket when they return from high places.
The North Cascades National Park just announced Friday that it will set you back $16 a night to camp at the Colonial Creek, Newhalem and Goodell Creek campgrounds along the North Cascades Highway.
The public is forking up passes and fees. It is time the Legislature puts public support behind a parks system worthy of “the Evergreen State.”