During this challenging time while we all are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, state parks are open and are a good place for people to get outdoors and get some peace of mind. We are taking additional precautionary measures to keep our staff and visitors safe and we plan on continuing to operate camping and day-use areas at the parks.
As a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and following the Governor’s social distancing recommendations for state agencies and public events the Commission cancelled their March meeting and the April grand re-opening of the Goldendale Observatory. Postponed Commission agenda items and other events will be rescheduled later in the year.
On a happier note, the legislature adjourned Sine Die last night bringing the 60-day supplemental session to a close. I’m pleased to report that the 2020 session was a very good one for State Parks both on the budget and policy fronts.
Operating budget highlights:
Maintenance and operations staff- $3.4 million per year: The Commission’s top budget priority this session, this funding will help support additional staff to operate and maintain park properties and facilities in the face of growing numbers of visitors.
No Child Left Inside– $500K: Additional grant support for programs and organizations that get underserved youth outdoors and active on public lands. Total funding for the biennium is increased to $2 million and demand for the program is at an all-time high.
One-time Litter Tax funding replaced with ongoing general fund support. This move to redirect the remaining $2.5 million of Litter Tax funding in our budget to address the state’s solid waste challenges was welcomed by State Parks. For nearly a decade the Commission has struggled with securing this one-time funding to support basic service levels.
The Recreation and Conservation was provided funding to support two important efforts involving state recreation agencies.
Long term-funding for outdoor recreation-
Funding was provided to convene and facilitate an advisory group that includes state agencies involved in recreation and other outdoor recreation groups in the development of a bold vision and twenty-year legislative strategy to invest in, promote, and support state outdoor recreation in Washington State. A report to the Legislature is due by November 30, 2020.
Standardized method to report stewardship needs on public lands-
Funding was provided for the Recreation and Conservation Office, State Parks, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources to work with a facilitator to develop a standardized method to measure and report stewardship needs and performance outcomes from lands purchased with Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program grants.
Nisqually State Park- maintenance building ($832K)– This building will provide a base of operations for park staff and a safe place to store equipment as we continue to work with the Nisqually Indian Tribe on the development of the next state park. The presence of staff to protect natural and cultural resources at the park is a critical component of furthering the partnership between the agency and the Tribe on this project.
Selected policy bills that passed the legislature:
HB 2601- Concerning the authority of the Parks and Recreation Commission to approve leases
By request of the State Parks and Recreation Commission. The bill eliminates a unanimous voting requirement for the Governor appointed 7-member Commission to approve long-term leases on state park properties and replaces it with a super-majority of at least 5 affirmative votes. The legislation also increases the upper limit on duration of leases the Commission can approve from 50 to 80 years. Long-term leases are an important tool the Commission uses to improve park properties like the Public Development Authority at Fort Worden Historical State Park, the ski area at Mount Spokane State Park, and the Lodge at St. Edward State Park.
HB 2587- Establishing a program for the designation of state scenic bikeways
This bill came as a bit of a surprise to State Parks this session. The state scenic bikeways program is modeled after a successful program in Oregon. The bill directs the State Parks Commission to work with the State Department of Transportation and trail proponents to designate and promote scenic bikeways of notable scenic, recreational, cultural, and historic value. Since the program was created in Oregon over 10 years ago, 17 scenic bikeways of varying length and difficulty have been approved by the Oregon Parks Commission. The program will increase bicycle tourism and related spending in rural communities across the state.
Here is a link to Oregon’s website for more details on the program: https://oregonstateparks.org/
SHB 6670- Encouraging access to state parks through cooperative programs with libraries
The bill directs the Commission to provide two Discover Passes to libraries that provide the pass on a loan basis to their patrons. The legislation memorializes in statute last year’s successful pilot program funded by the State Parks Foundation and supported by the Discover Pass agencies and the State Library. The state budget provides enough funding to provide two passes to every library in the state; there are 350 libraries statewide. Library Discover Passes are valid not only at State Parks but also Department of Fish and Wildlife’s and Department of Natural Resources’ recreational lands.
SHB 1293- Concerning the distribution of monetary penalties to local courts and state agencies for the failure to comply with Discover Pass requirements
This bill passed this year after being introduced over the last several sessions and allows county district courts to retain 25 percent of the penalty money received from Discover Pass and Day-Use Permits. The bill recognizes that District Courts are partners in Discover Pass Program compliance and provides monetary support to county court systems for processing parking infractions on state recreational lands.
Take care of yourselves, friends, and family members and consider visiting your state parks as a way to get out of the house and reduce stress.
Thank you for your interest and support of our remarkable state park system. Hang in there everyone.
Owen Rowe, Policy and Governmental Affairs Director
Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
PO Box 42650 ~ 1111 Israel Road SW
Olympia, WA 98504-2650
Office: (360) 902-8504
Mobile: (360) 701-5326
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