Washington State Parks Funding Questioned

By Steve Jackson

Supporters of Washington State’s park system are concerned that the new state budget proposals are too small to keep the parks in good working order.

Washington state parks have taken a big hit financially in recent years. Lawmakers have tried to wean the parks off the state’s general fund, and move their financial support over to the state’s new Discover Pass system. But sales of the new pass have been slow.

In the last week, new financing proposals for the parks have come in at $16 million from the Senate, and $23.7 million in the new House budget. Deliberations will determine the actual amount.

Lobbyist Jim King is with the group Citizens for Parks and Recreation, who puts the latest budget into a perspective of how much funding parks used to receive.

"If you go back to before the great recession, in 2007-2009 we’re at an appropriation of 98 million general fund."

That figure is about 80 percent more than current funding.

It is uncertain exactly what the result of continuing cuts will mean for area parks.  Riverside State Park Manager Chris Godotti says the budget reductions last year resulted in some changes at the park near Spokane.

“At Riverside we did lose about 40 percent of our staff, basically we are down from 12 rangers to eight right now," Godotti says. "And on top of that we took on Steptoe Battlefield, and managing a DNR campground at Lake Spokane with eight rangers, much less than in the past."

Lobbyist Jim King is concerned that even if all the 117 state parks can remain open, that the budget is so slim, many services will have to be cut.

“The longer this goes on at those levels, the longer the deferred maintenance, and we're just kicking costs into the future, we're not saving any money for the state," King says. "We're just delaying the inevitable and we're adding $20 million a biennium to the maintenance problem, because were not taking care of things.”

King says he believes the legislature may have to go into extra session again this year for the budget to be decided.

2013 is the centennial of the Washington State parks system.

Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio

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