In the face of dwindling tax funds and fee revenue far below expectations, Washington’s state parks have eliminated or reduced about a third of their full-time positions during the past four years, Portland’s The Oregonian reported.
Park visitors can see the impact of these cuts in decreased maintenance and staff presence, said Sandy Mealing, public information officer for Washington State Parks and Recreation. State parks receive an average of 40 million visitors annually.
Since 2008, they have decreased full-time staff positions from 595 to 395. The positions cut include construction and maintenance workers, managers and park rangers.
Parks need to keep rangers on duty during the peak season, from May to September, Mealing said. Of 189 ranger positions at more than 100 parks, 66 have been cut from full-time to five- or eight-month stints focused on these busy months.
“The problem with that is, when the parks are not as busy with visitors, that’s when our staff do maintenance,” Mealing said. “So now that we’ve had to reduce 66 of those positions, those positions won’t be available to help with maintenance during the off-season, which means things don’t get taken care of.”
At Battle Ground Lake State Park in Clark County, the decrease in maintenance level is noticeable for visitors, Park Manager Jim Presser said.
“We’re not able, especially here, to maintain the trails and trim back the branches on the 10 miles of trails,” he said.
Mealing said deferred maintenance on park land and structures can turn into more costly capital projects later.
Along with decreasing ranger hours, state parks also cut management positions. They eliminated the deputy director position and the entire regional level of management, which included three regional managers. Other money-saving measures ended programs such as No Child Left Inside, which funded outdoor education and recreation activities for youth.
“The system is not sustainable at the level we’re at,” Mealing said.