Washington State Parks have a friend in Margie Parker.
The Coupeville resident spearheaded a year-long effort to form a new liaison with the state agency called Friends of Whidbey State Parks.
Its aim is to fill staffing and maintenance holes at Whidbey’s seven parks created by years of state budget cuts. Volunteers are being sought for training to oversee projects that will be identified and assigned by park employees.
“All of the state parks south of Deception Pass need a lot of help,” said Parker, a 40-year resident of Whidbey. “We’ve been working to create a partnership. We want to have team leaders for each of the parks oversee projects such as work on a trail, clean up a beach, help in the office or remove invasive species.”
The seven parks or park sites are: Joseph Whidbey, Fort Ebey, Ebey’s Landing, Fort Casey, Keystone Spit, South Whidbey and Possession Point.
Several meetings are planned on South and North Whidbey to explain the new park partnership.
Since the 2008 recession, state-run parks across the Evergreen State have experienced major cuts in personnel and operational budgets as the Legislature continually decreased the parks’ share of state general funds.
Once supported by some $90 million in state funds, parks must now generate a majority of their own operating budgets.
In 2011, the state created the Discover Pass to offset the budget reductions.
Costing $30 annually or $10 daily to access 100 developed parks and dozens of other wilderness sites, it’s still not enough to keep up appearances at the recreational sites.
“Our staffing has been cut quite a bit since pre-2012,” said Jon Crimmins, area manager of the seven parks that are known as Central Whidbey Parks. “We can get the basics done but not all the trail and campsite clean-up. We’ve got a bit of a maintenance backlog.”
A Friends partnership will definitely help, especially during the spring and summer busy season, Crimmins said.
The Friends of Whidbey State Parks group joins 27 other similar groups and foundations in Washington that provide support and advocacy. Deception Pass State Park has enjoyed a robust Friends group for years.
Several years ago, a South Whidbey Friends park group formed to oppose a state proposal to privatize local parks in order to keep them open.
“That group came together and lasted a few years and then faded,” Parker said. “They clearly said ‘no’ to the state parks becoming privatized and letting concessionaires come in.”
Getting a Whidbey Friends park group officially formed took much longer than expected, Parker said. While it has social media sites, by-laws and a board of directors, its nonprofit status still needs to be approved.
But the unpaid labor of love is worth it to Parker, a retired pediatric nurse.
“I just love all the parks on Whidbey and all they have to offer,” she said.
“I think the Friends group is a huge opportunity for people to get to know their neighbors and become an advocate for their local park.”
Public meetings to discuss Friends of Whidbey State Parks’ purpose, progress and volunteer opportunities are scheduled: 7-8 p.m. Feb. 6, Coupeville Library; 7-8 p.m. Feb. 8, Freeland Library; 7-8 p.m. Feb. 15 at Oak Harbor Library.