Parks Report Part Two
Posted March 3, 2017 at 5:48 am by Tim Dustrude
The trails and open spaces on the island are popular with both residents and visitors, but they don’t just appear out of nowhere. Where does the money come from to keep them open? What can members of the public do to help? This is the second in a series of reports by Louise Dustrude trying to answer those questions.
In 2009 the state legislature, with revenues falling as a result of the economic crash, voted to cut general fund support for State Parks and instead told them to “run the parks like a business”, according to San Juan Area Manager Chris Guidotti. Chris oversees Lime Kiln Point, Moran, and Spencer Spit State Parks, plus 13 marine parks.
The Discover Pass, a vehicle access pass which costs $10 per day or $30 per year, was instituted as a way of funding State Parks. Unfortunately, sales of the pass did not fully replace the general fund money that the legislature cut. As a result, approximately 40% of State Park Staff were either laid off or had their year-round positions changed to seasonal. The remaining staff had to scramble to maintain the parks.
State Parks adopted a transformation strategy to deal with the legislative direction. The strategy focuses on finding more efficient ways of doing business as well as relying more heavily on partnerships and volunteers. It also focuses on ways to increase revenues. This has led to variable pricing for camping, higher fees and exploring other ways to generate revenue with things like cabins and “glamping.” Moran State Park on Orcas is a “pilot” for advertising in parks, according to Chris, although so far it is low-key and local.
But he asks: “How far can this go before the public loses the sense that the parks belong to us all and before many families are totally priced out of the park experience?”
The legislature realized last year that parks are not “a business” and cannot be operated like one, and so some of the necessary funding has been restored.
Lime Kiln Point State Park now has two full-time, year-round rangers and a couple of part-time summer people; this small staff is also responsible for a number of the small island marine parks in the county. That means maintaining water systems, road systems, electrical systems, and trails, and it doesn’t leave much time for interacting with the public.
“People like to see a ranger in the park,” David Halpern said, “but that doesn’t happen when the rangers are busy in the office, or busy cleaning the toilets.” Halpern is one of the two rangers at Lime Kiln.
Many state parks, like the national parks, have turned to the use of volunteers.
One employee who lost her job here in 2009, Erin Corra, remained committed to the park. She started a volunteer group, F.O.L.K.S. (Friends of Lime Kiln Society), which recruits volunteers to help the park in a variety of ways, including lighthouse tours and staffing the visitor center during the summer season. Anyone who would like to help can check out their web site: folkssji.org.
Anyone interested in volunteering for construction projects or maintenance might approach the park office directly.
Both Chris and David emphasized that the parks couldn’t function without the many volunteers who have stepped up. “We’re just so grateful to them,” Chris said. “It’s how we keep the gates open.”
Lime Kiln draws visitors primarily for the opportunity to see orca whales close to shore, and for the whale talks by Dr. Bob Otis throughout the summer months. Additionally there are lime kilns and limestone quarries and a network of hiking trails which connect with trails on the adjoining Land Bank Limekiln Preserve.
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