Central Whidbey state parks could be mothballed

Vancouver, B.C., resident Miguel Bertello carries a parachute at Fort Ebey State Park. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Vancouver, B.C., resident Miguel Bertello carries a parachute at Fort Ebey State Park.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Two old military bases that are now state parks could become the latest casualties of the state’s budget crunch.

Fort Casey State Park and Fort Ebey State Park, with their historic gun emplacements and hiking trails, are both on an early list of parks that could be mothballed to help resolve a ginormous budget deficit at the state level.

The Whidbey Island state parks attract people from across the region and beyond. People flock to the parks on Central Whidbey to hike, bike, fly kites, paraglide, picnic and enjoy the seashore.

“As far as paragliding goes, this is the only place for ridge soaring,” said Eddie Desrochers, who, along with his friend, Miguel Bertello, came down from Vancouver, B.C., to paraglide off the bluff near the Fort Ebey State Park gun battery.

He was surprised to hear about the possible mothballing of the park.

He visits the park nine or ten times a year; he said it’s one of the more accessible parks for users.

While Desrochers and Bertello were trying to get their feet off the ground, Seattle resident Liam Cover was flying his kite.

“That would be horrible. I don’t agree,” Cover said upon learning the news. He has been to Fort Ebey several times in recent weeks to hike, fly kites and paraglide.

For many Whidbey Island residents, the parks provides a pristine place to hike.

Teronda West residents Tom and Judith Smith visit Fort Ebey State Park several times a week.

“It’s the most spectacular, panoramic view,” Judith said while Tom noted that the former storage spaces near the emplacements are popular areas for kids to explore.

Both, too, would be disappointed to see the two popular state parks on Whidbey Island close.

Virginia Painter, spokesperson for Washington State Parks, said the mothball list is only a starting point as the agency struggles to come up with further reductions as requested by legislators struggling with the budget in Olympia.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is meeting today to decide on criteria to use in making a list of recommended cutbacks.

Painter said that the list developed was based on parks that take more than $300,000 to run over a two-year period and the number of people attending.

She added the list doesn’t have much weight because the commission has to decide on what criteria to use.

State Parks has been ordered to produce a list of $23 million in reductions for the Legislature to consider. That figure represents approximately 23 percent of the parks budget.

The Parks Commission was originally asked to make $10 million worth of reductions. Parks officials identified a list of 13 parks to mothball or transfer to other entities. That list included the Environmental Learning Center at Camp Moran on Orcas Island.

Now, with deficit estimates ballooning from $6 billion to $8 billion and beyond, parks officials had to dig deeper for more cuts.

Painter said that there have been big cuts made at the state headquarters as well. Fifty people, approximately one-third of the staff, have received layoff notices.

Parks officials will come up with a reduction plan to present to the Legislature next week.

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