State considers Squak Mountain State Park shutdown
October 19, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Squak Mountain State Park could be shut down from July until 2013 as the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission struggles to address a state budget shortfall.
The agency has proposed mothballing Squak Mountain — a 1,545-acre preserve south of Issaquah city limits — and a handful of other state parks in order to cut $1.6 million from the budget between 2011 and 2013.
“We’ve done this so many times and so many different ways,” commission spokeswoman Virginia Painter said. “There’s no good way to do it, because no matter how you slice it, it’s somebody’s favorite park that’s up on that list.”
The commission picked the option to close Squak Mountain, Federation Forest, Flaming Geyser, Fort Ward, Peshastin Pinnacles and Tolmie parks instead of a proposal to mothball 13 state parks. In addition to the parks cuts, the agency has proposed some service cuts, increased camping fees, staff reductions and employee layoffs at the Olympia headquarters. Combined, the measures should save the state parks system about $8 million.
“This is hard for the rangers, because those parks are their pride and joy,” Painter said. “It’s hard for them to leave things undone.”
The closure of Squak Mountain State Park could also mean the layoff of the ranger assigned to the facility.
Commissioners selected Squak Mountain and the other parks due to the ratio of revenue to expenses. Squak Mountain, for instance, cost $61,844 to maintain during the 2009 fiscal year, but the park generated only $423 during the same period.
Gov. Chris Gregoire asked all state agencies to prepare for a 10 percent budget reduction in the 2011-13 biennium, as the state faces a $3 billion budget shortfall.
For the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, the cut translates to about $6.7 million.
The commission and other state agencies submitted proposals to the state Office of Financial Management by Sept. 30. The plan could change by the time the Legislature adopts a budget early next year.
Gregoire is due to announce a 2011-13 budget proposal in December. Then, legislators fashion a final budget to be signed by the governor in the spring. The spending plan takes effect July 1, 2011.
If the plan to mothball Squak Mountain and the other parks proceeds, the plan calls for the gates to the parking lot to be locked — and not much else.
“People are going to go in, we know that,” Painter said. “We don’t really recommend it, because they’re not going to have any services there. There’s no one that’s going to be able to help them if they have a problem.”
Lake Sammamish Park Manager Rich Benson said he expects users to continue to hike and ride along the popular network of trails and equestrian paths on Squak Mountain. Rangers manage Lake Sammamish, Squak Mountain, Bridle Trails and Olallie state parks from a lakeside office in Issaquah.
Though security at the park is to be reduced under the proposal, “we’re not going to go up there and boot people out who are walking the trails,” he said.
The challenge is the latest to a state parks system battered by shrinking budgets and a lack of dollars dedicated to park upkeep.
The parks commission proposed mothballing up to 40 state parks in early 2009. In the end, legislators agreed to add a $5 opt-out fee on state vehicle license tab renewals. But the measure did not generate as much revenue as anticipated, prompting the commission to consider additional cuts.
Despite the challenges, Painter said, “We have to do our best to spread our staff around to cover our service needs and so forth.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.