“It felt more like a celebration of the outdoors than a bill signing ceremony”
On May 15th, 2015, leaders of the outdoor industry, such as REI, K2, and Outdoor Research, alongside leaders the state of politics nature met to watch Governor Jay Inslee signed an important bill. Inside the event room at Tolmie State Park, over looking the Nisqually Reach of the Puget Sound, a bill was signed that helps parks that employ veterans be awarded grants. The bill also states that the Governor of Washington can now appoint a senior policy advisor for outdoor recreation, a position long overdue in one of the only states in America without a tourism board.
While cameras flashed, and interns and staffers held their phones up to record the event, important leaders of business and politics in the State of Washington were chatting about hikes. The normal suit and tie crowd got to relax, for today they were wearing their khakis and puffy coats from their favorite outdoor clothing brand.
Smiles were on everyone’s faces, as the Washington State was recognizing tourism as a major economic factor.
Our National Parks are responsible for an absurd amount of revenue to the area, while the current parks budget in Washington State supports 199,000 jobs and generates $700 million to the local economies. All this information was easy to get, as it was on fliers being handout out at the event by AFSCME/WFSE representatives, happily greeting other outdoor lovers and bill signing enthusiasts.
Governor Inslee expanded on the notes in a short speech before the bill signings.
“We need to understand what an economically vibrant industry we have here (Washington State) today.”
“Every year, 21.6 billion dollars are spent on outdoor recreation trips and equipment”
“The outdoor recreation sector supports nearly 200,000 jobs, comparable to the aerospace and tech centers for the State of Washington”
After the bill was signed and signed oars were given to the State Senators who saw this bill through, the Governor and a hundred or so outdoor lovers took a stroll down to the Puget Sound. After the obligatory picture session against the traditional PNW gray backdrop, I looked on as leaders of the outdoor industry, two state senators and the Governor of the State of Washington had a contest to see who could get the most skips with a rock. I have video proof that the Governor can skip rocks.
So there I was, at Tommie State Park. I chatted with the Governor about hiking and Lake of the Angels, I said hi to the representative of REI, talked gear with a guy from K2, and nodded my head in appreciation with two rad State Senators. While that is a pretty cool day, I ended up talking with two people who helped open my eyes to the importance of State Parks to our economy, and our society.
One was a Park Ranger, who chatted with me for a good 10 minutes. In our short talk, we chatted mostly about the need for more funding going to the parks. Since 2008, the parks budget has been slashed from $94.5 million to $20 million. We talked about how with less money, less schools attend State Parks, as staffing issues may discourage districts from visiting the park just down the street. We talked about the beauty of nature, the awesomeness of the Pacific Northwest, and the need to keep the parks open and ended to give families a local place to get outdoors. We talked, shook hands and I thanked him for his work, but forgot to write down his name.
The other talk I had with with a guy named Brandon Anderson. I have known Brandon for years, and know he is a passionate person about union rights and the outdoors. He is the Strategic Alliance Coordinator for WFSE/AFSCME Council 28 (State Employee Unions). As we talked about life, I asked him to catch me up on the work he was doing. He explained to me that he was there, not just as a lover of nature for his family and the state, but to help raise awareness of the budget problem between the House of Representatives and the State Senate.
“We’ve been working in partnership with local business leaders, outdoor supporters, and rural community leaders to protect funding for our state parks. Right now, Andy Hill and the State Senate’s budget proposal further compromises the stability of our state park system and hurts many local economies who rely heavily on recreation and tourism- especially our rural communities. ”
“The Senate Republicans have chosen to gut funding for our parks to continue their wasteful tax breaks for oil, banking, agribusiness and other large corporations. We are here today to send a message to Senate lawmakers that state parks matter to voters and are an important part of a healthy Washington economy.”
If you love State Parks, agree with Brandon, then you don’t need to be reminded that this is super important. This is when we have a real voice in our democracy. We have a direct ear to our representatives, and we are strongly encouraged to contact them and tell them how we feel. If you love our state parks and want to keep seeing them, staying in the cabins and yours, hiking their trails, and enjoying their rainbow filled sunsets, tell your state senator or representative.