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Public ideas sought in operating Washington State Parks
A big change in the way Washington State Parks is funded is prompting leaders to ask the public for input regarding how the system should operate.
Public meetings to acquire input about how the parks should operate will take place next week, one in Port Townsend and one in Burlington.
Washington State Parks had to undergo significant funding changes resulting in staff cutbacks in the wake of a funding crisis at the state level. Tax dollars the park system received were slashed and the Discover Pass was implemented as a substitute. The Discover Pass costs $10 per day use per car or $30 per year.
Receipts haven’t kept up with projected Discover Pass revenue of $54 million for the biennium. Early this year the park system slashed staff and the projection was dropped to $33 million.
Deception Pass State Park, for example, lost half of its park rangers and a third of its maintenance staff.
As of April, the state had collected $10.8 million in Discover Pass revenues. The park system receives the bulk of the money but some goes to the departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources.
“We know we need to find ways to operate more sustainably,” said Virginia Painter, spokeswoman for Washington State Parks. Officials are looking at other park systems across the country to see how they operate. They are also examining how to better partner with local businesses and garner nonprofit organizations’ support to improve park operations.
Information from the meeting will be used in several ways in the coming year. Painter said input will help determine the park system budget request from the state Legislature. The input will also be used to develop a sustainability report that is due to the Legislature this fall and will be used to develop a strategic plan.
In the meantime, people are still coming to the parks and purchasing the Discover Pass.
“I think people recognize that it is a pretty good deal,” said Jack Hartt, manager at Deception Pass State Park. adding that attendance has been strong at his park, which is the most popular in the state.
Hartt said the recent legislation allowing for the Discover Pass to be used on two different vehicles in the same family has improved sales.
The biggest factor presently affecting attendance is the rainy weather that has soaked Whidbey Island in recent days.
“We’re in June-uary again,” Hartt said.
Two meetings addressing how the Washington state park system should change will take place next week. The first is scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 11 at Fort Worden State Park, 200 Battery Way, Company A, in Port Townsend. The second is scheduled from 6:30 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, June 12, at the Burlington Library at 820 E. Washington Ave., in Burlington. People attending the meeting at Fort Worden State Park won’t have to purchase a Discover Pass.