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Dash Point and Saltwater state parks face possible closure

Up to 40 state parks, including Dash Point State Park in Federal Way, face a temporary demise if a budget cut is mandated by the Legislature this month.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, which operates and manages the state's parks, is looking at a cut of between $10 million and $23 million to its general fund.

The commission is bracing itself to transfer ownership or impermanently close parks as a means of addressing the budget gap. The state Legislature will announce its budget at the end of April. It is still uncertain how much funding will be withheld and how that will affect state parks and their visitors, commission spokeswoman Virginia Painter said.

Legislators are vetting House Bill 2339, whose sponsors include State Rep. Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way), as a way to avoid losing parks.

The bill proposes a voluntary $5 donation tacked on to motor vehicle licensing fees. This would be used for operation and maintenance of the parks. Legislators are considering the bill because the state's residents have overwhelmingly said they want to save their parks, Painter said.

Discussions regarding the state's park system will continue well after the Legislature has announced its budget, Painter said. Talks about raising park fees is another option that may be discussed, she said. For now, those who have reservations at a state park this season can rest easy.

"The commission has said, if at all possible, for people who have reservations for the season, we want to honor those," she said.

Impacts

Budget cuts, whether they be $10 million or $23 million, will noticeably affect several state parks.

The smaller cut is expected to translate into transfered ownership of up to 13 parks. Operations would be overtaken by local governments or non-profit organizations. This will save $3.5 million, according to an April 10 parks and recreation commission document titled "$23 million reduction could mean mothballing state parks."

Slashing $23 million from the budget could bring about the temporary demise of up to 40 state parks, including Dash Point State Park in Federal Way, and Saltwater State Park near Des Moines, according to the document. Three-quarters of the commission's funds are used to operate parks. The commission has already closed a regional office, reduced staffing, halted the replacement of equipment and stopped subsidies to some public programs, according to the same document.

"We will have to make reductions," Painter said. "There is just no way around that."

Difficult decisions

Deciding which parks to bid farewell is always difficult, she said. Recreation areas that experience biennial expenditures of $300,000 or greater are in jeopardy. Parks were picked based solely on their revenues, expenditures and annual visitation, Painter said. Dash Point places 16th and Saltwater 21st on the list, ranked in order of the most to least savings upon closure. Temporarily shutting down parks will be a last-ditch effort to meet budget demands.

"I think the intention of the Legislature is that we not mothball any parks," Painter said. "The ultimate goal is to re-open, even if we have to mothball in the meantime."

Inside Dash Point State Park

Dash Point is 398-acre camping park with 3,301 feet of shoreline on Puget Sound. Its annual expenditures are $455,220 and its annual revenue is $186,855, Painter said. Closing the park would save the commission approximately $268,365 annually. Dash Point sees 193,778 visitors — overnight and day visits — a year, she said.

Get involved

For meeting details, visit www.parks.wa.gov/commtg.asp. If park closures become a reality, public meetings will be announced to help the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission develop stewardship and plans for affected parks, according to the April 10 document. The public can share concerns with the commission via e-mail to pao@parks.wa.gov, or by letter to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, P.O. Box 42650, Olympia, WA 98504-2650.

List of potential temporary park closures

1. Jarrell Cove

2. Fields Spring

3. Federation Forest

4. Sacajawea

5. Rainbow Falls

6. Beacon Rock

7. Lewis and Clark

8. Fort Columbia

9. Alta Lake

10. Columbia Plateau

11. Wallace Falls

12. Lake Easton

13. Yakima Sportsman

14. Maryhill

15. Illahee

16. Dash Point

17. Potlatch

18. Twin Harbors

19. Ginkgo/Wanapum

20. Flaming Geyser

21. Saltwater

22. Ocean City

23. Fort Ebey

24. Wenatchee Confluence

25. Lake Wenatchee

26. Fort Flagler

27. Mount Spokane

28. Millersylvania

29. Sun Lakes-Dry Falls

30. Larrabee

31. Fort Casey

32. Saint Edward

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