Just bought my $30 annual Washington State Parks Discovery Pass today. Now I won’t have to pay $10 every time I visit Riverside State Park.
What you say? We shouldn’t have to pay to use state parks? Well, did you:
– Vote for any Eyman initiative that dramatically reduced state revenue?
– Vote against the soda and candy tax?
– Vote for a politician promising to go to Olympia to slash “wasteful spending”?
Unfortunately one person’s “wasteful spending” is another’s “essential service.” Today State Parks are being treated as “wasteful spending” and the solution is a fee that charges you and I the same amount as Bill Gates every time we enter a state park. But, honestly, I don’t see a better alternative. Despite what you may hear, Washington State per capita spending is at its lowest level since 1986. Meanwhile the basic costs of park maintenance including fuel and raw materials continues to go up, while state park employees are furloughed and laid off. If that’s not the definition of a revenue problem I don’t know what is. There really is no way to fix this situation without overhauling our state tax structure. Until then we have a fee that unduly impacts low-income park users that live near urban area state parks like Riverside.
For now, I will gladly pay this fee, especially if it helps us avoid the fate of other state park systems. In Minnesota state parks are a political football. Iowa is trying to rely on all-volunteer maintenance. Oklahoma is closing 7 state parks. California is shuttering 70. And in Florida state parks are going through monthly policy flip-flop. First the idea was to close one third of all parks. Then salvation was going to come from adding a massive new development of private RV camping. Now Florida is quietly privatizing big chunks of its park system, including attractions such as Weeki Wachee Springs—which is funny since this park was taken over by the state just three years ago after mismanagement by a private concessionaire.
State Parks still remain a sensible place for public money according to the National Association of State Park Directors which reports that all 50 state park systems cost less than $2.3 billion in total to manage and operate, but generate $20 billion in economic impact. I’ll invest in that.
JON SNYDER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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