Opinion

Failing our state parks | Editorial

Washington’s state parks are starting to wither on the vine as the Legislature chokes off funding for what was once bragged up as the gem of the Evergreen State.

Dozens of parks dot the state’s landscape, from the basalt coulees of Eastern Washington to the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. They reflect this state’s amazing geographic diversity, from high deserts to higher mountains, from tall, dry timber to the lushest rain forest north of the Amazon.

Our state parks should be abundantly funded and advertised as one of our top tourist attractions. But like that other great tourist attraction, Washington State Ferries, the parks go wanting as the Legislature addresses other priorities.

Last week the state Parks Commission slashed half the staff at our state parks, a move that is particularly devastating to Whidbey Island where Deception Pass State Park, Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park and South Whidbey State Park attract many thousands of tourists annually. It will be impossible for half a staff to keep up with maintenance and law enforcement needs, let alone serve as tour guides. Part-time hirees in the summer months won’t nearly fill the gap left by experienced, full-time park employees.

The Legislature intends to wean State Parks from tax funding entirely with the Discover Pass, implemented last summer. The $10 daily park fee or $30 annual pass has already fallen short of predicted revenue. Only an elected official could be so detached from reality as to think it will ever generate the revenue needed to nourish a healthy, vibrant community of state parks.

It has been proposed that Puget Sound’s state parks, particularly those on Whidbey and near Port Townsend, be turned over to the National Park Service, which already oversees Whidbey’s Fort Ebey National Historic Reserve.

Perhaps they all should be nationalized, or privatized, because the people in charge in Olympia have failed our deteriorating park system.

 

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