SPOKANE, Wash. – It's been a very tough few years for Washington State Parks; they've been limping along with reductions in budgets and staffing, but now, it's the end of the line. Without more state funding, they'll be forced to close.
"I've done this 18 years, and if we take any more cuts, forget about it," Riverside State Park Assistant Area Manager Gary Vierra told KHQ. "We're going to have to close, that's inevitable."
In the 2007-2009 budget cycle, state parks got $94.5 million dollars from Washington's general fund, according to department spokeswoman Sandy Mealing. But in the next biennium, 2009-2011, that dollar figure was slashed by more than half; parks got $41.5 million.
With an already gloomy budget picture, things only got worse.
In the current 2011-2013 biennium, state parks are only getting $17.3 million of general funds, and in the next two-year budget cycle, that figure may be zero.
"[If that happens] we'll have to close, things here at Riverside will have to close," Vierra added. "I mean, I'm watching the stress on staff, just the carnage there, I mean it's bad."
The Discover Pass ‘pay to play' system was rolled out over the summer of 2011, with the hopes it would single-handedly fund state parks, but it's not paying off. Mealing says Discover Passes were expected to generate $64 million in the current two-year period (or $32 million per year), but have actually brought in less than half that, at $15.7 million.
State Parks only keep 84% of that – the rest goes to the Departments of Natural Resources and Fish & Wildlife.
Vierra told KHQ he's already lost about half his staff at Riverside State Park over the last few years, and still has the same amount of visitors and acreage to manage.
If something doesn't change, and the part gates have to close, Vierra says there will be no one there to plow snow, put out fires, pick up garbage, manage the homeless population, provide law enforcement and medical aid, or keep the restrooms open.
Our beloved state parks, essentially, could become wastelands.
The new budget cycle begins in July, and the state legislature will begin funding discussions once again around January or February. State Parks are asking for $27.2 million in general fund state dollars to just scrape by, but there is no guarantee they'll get anything at all.
Mealing says if the gates close at both Riverside and Mt. Spokane State Parks, a total of 31 people (full time, temporary and seasonal) will lose their jobs.