State parks gird for possible $30 million budget gap

December 6, 2011

By Staff

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission officials said the agency is prepared to change amid the prospect of a $30 million budget gap.

The state parks agency used to receive about 75 percent of operating funds from the state general fund, but in the last legislative session, lawmakers set aside $17 million in “bridge” funding to transition the agency off of general fund dollars. Legislators also implemented the Discover Pass, a parking fee for state parks and state-managed recreation lands.

The commission prepared a strategy to allow the agency to respond to a worst-case scenario if legislators cut the existing $17 million general fund dollars, or if Discover Pass and other revenues fall short. The strategy includes deep spending cuts, changes to service levels in the short term and re-engineering the agency for a leaner future.

“The situation would be bleak if Discover Pass and other revenues do not increase,” State Parks Director Don Hoch said in a statement. “Our goal is to keep parks open, but we need the help and support of the public to do that.”

What to know
Officials asked members of the public to purchase a Discover Pass to prevent cuts to state parks. The annual pass costs $30 — or $35 including transaction and dealer fees if purchased at a license dealer, by phone or online — and a day-use pass costs $10, or $11.50 including fees. Learn more, or purchase a Discover Pass, at www.discoverpass.wa.gov.

The agency operates Lake Sammamish and Squak Mountain state parks near Issaquah.

The announcement from the commission came days before state lawmakers gathered in Olympia late last month to close a $2 billion spending gap.

The potential fallout from a $30 million shortfall include reductions in agency staffing, longer law enforcement response times at parks, deferred maintenance and more.

The commission is also preparing to retool for the future by expanding fundraising and volunteer efforts, developing additional marketing and promotional tools, and changing operating and staffing models.

Officials also urged Washington residents to purchase a Discover Pass to shore up funding for state parks and public lands.

“The Discover Pass is a vital funding source for state parks,” commission Chairman Joe Taller said in a statement. “We are asking the public to support and protect state parks by purchasing the Discover Pass.”

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