Updated: Shutdown Avoided- 

Thanks to a severe ideological disagreement by our elected officials over the new budget, Washington State is on the verge of having the first government shutdown in state history. With a government shutdown looming, many issues arise, including the possible furloughing of 26,000 state employees. The details of the Republican and Democrat budgets are about as exciting to read as it is to watch paint dry, and I won’t bore you with the details.  Instead, I will focus on an area that is important to many around the Pacific Northwest- Washington State Parks.

The impact of the government shutdown on Washington State Parks would be huge. Started in 1913, there are now 130 parks throughout the state, each more beautiful than the last.  Washington State Parks house some of the more iconic views in our region, including the official waterfall of Washington State, Palouse Falls. If a shutdown does to occur, access would be restricted to every state park in Washington. Washington State Parks Officials are not happy about this, or the future budget.

How Did This Happen?

As reported by Rachel La Corte, of the Associated Press,

The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have been locked in budget negotiations for several weeks. They’re in a second overtime legislative session after adjourning both a regular 105-day legislative session and a 30-day special session without reaching a budget deal.

Historically, the fight has been going on for years. One party in Washington has been systematically attacking our state parks budget, yet they keep getting re-elected. Even in regions where the majority of tourism dollars come from people visiting state parks, constituents are voting against the parks. Year after year, one party attack the parks, their employees and their unions, all in hopes to let the free market figure out the best way to preserve our state lands.

The other party largely claims they support parks and state employees, yet have written in their budget to still reduce funds to parks. They show up to parks, claim to love nature, then turn around and make drastic cuts. They will defend State Parks in public, yet in budget negotiations, the budget is continually slashed. Every budget, we have the same song and dance, yet both parties are walking in the same direction- allowing the slow and drawn out death of Washington State Parks.

Since 2008, the budget for Washington State Parks has been slashed from $94.5 million to $20 million, despite the fact that tourism is one of the top revenue generators in Washington State. The current budgets continue the trend.

In a press release by the other party, the Senate proposal “funds parks at $24M below the House & Governor’s budget proposals and represents a 20 percent cut in the overall funding (from $136 million)”

Governor Inslee understands the impact recreation has on Washington State’s economy, as his statements at a bill signing demonstrate.

“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”

Above Potlatch State Park on Hood Canal
Above Potlatch State Park on Hood Canal

What We Lose With Closing Our State Parks

Washington State Parks are the busiest during the months of July and August, raising nearly half their revenue in the summer months. With a government shut down of just ONE day, the State Parks will lose a minimum of $55,000 in camping fees collected. If the government does shut down, even for a day, a minimum of 4,512 people will miss out on a camping experience in nature, while countless others will arrive for a day at the park, only to find the gates locked and closed. (Math based on 1,444 campsites costing an average of $35 a night= $50,560 a day, as well as 60 Yurts, Cabins, Etc  at an average of $65 a night= $3,909 a day. I feel a minimum of three people at each site was appropriate)

We not only lose revenue for an already cash strapped state agency, we lose momentum in a state that is really starting to embrace our natural areas in an unprecedented way. With a closure of our State Parks, hundreds of thousands of families will miss out on having that “perfect experience” in nature that would get them hooked on exploring Washington State. Closing the state parks even for one day would leave a terrible taste in the mouth of every visitor who hopes to camp, explore, or picnic at any of our amazing parks. Yet, the same people who are against the parks in every way shape and form of their tenure as your state senator or representative keep getting your vote.

By closing state parks for even one day, both parties and their constituents lose the right to say we care about access to our public lands. Unless you contact them and tell them how you feel.

What You Can Do About It

I know this may seem like I am telling you how to vote, and maybe I am. I don’t care. I am sick and tired of our state and our nation hating our legislators, then continuing to vote them back into office. I get that your vote doesn’t come down to just our state parks, but maybe it should for one election.  Maybe we should try to get our elected officials to vote for the interests of their constituents, and not vote along standard party line. Crazy thought, I know. It is like that is their job or something.

While I could rant for days on this, I have something better that we can all do. Contact your elected officials and tell them to pull their heads out of their asses and pass a budget that actually moves the state forward, instead of back to last century. Tell them to support our parks. tell them that if they continue to hold our public lands hostage until they get a budget deal, we will vote them right on out of office in 2016. If you care about parks, tell your representative that. The more they know people care, the more they will actually listen to you. Seriously, you have a voice in your State Government and it is time we all use it, before we lose it.

Contact Your Elected Officials

Chances are, you will be hard pressed to name your three local, elected officials who represent you in Olympia. I understand that, and am here to help. Please share these links with anyone and everyone you know, and tell them to tell their elected officials to KEEP PARKS OPEN!

Governors Office Info: Contact Gov Inslee

State Senator Info: Find Your State Senator and Representatives