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Washington legislature calls for repeal of state pay to play fees


Op-Ed : Welcome mat out at state parks again

Seattle Post- Intelligencer
By Nora Porter - Guest Columnist
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

The nearly impossible is about to happen. The Legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire are ready to give the state parks back to the people who own them, acknowledging that the parking-fee experiment proved dismally inefficient.

Designed to raise revenue to reduce the $300 million backlog of deferred maintenance, it arguably reduced it 1 percent. The administrative cost-benefit ratio is the highest in state government, 2005 parking revenue was lower than 2004 and volunteerism suffered along with attendance. Instead of getting better, things got worse.

Three years ago, when the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission imposed parking fees at all state parks, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee of the Fort Worden State Park and Conference Center in Port Townsend was horrified. Not only were the fees restrictive to our own residents and threatening to the parks’ neighborhoods, they were tantamount to a barrier at the city limits, undermining our huge investments in tourism.

To prevent this looming disaster, we scurried to negotiate a “buyout contract” with state parks. Over three years, we raised $150,000 to keep Fort Worden free of day-use parking fees and accessible to locals and tourists alike. It wasn’t easy in that economy but it paid off just as we suspected. As “tourism insurance,” it protected nearly 200 jobs at Fort Worden and hundreds more in local businesses. Unlike nearly every other state park, our attendance went up and revenue grew all three years.

This incontrovertible evidence became the basis for a citizens’ performance audit of the parking fee program. The result was House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler’s legislation to rescind the parking fee statewide and prevent access fees. Privatizing a sunset or a walk on the beach to raise such few dollars to “lessen the burden on the general fund” is ridiculous in a $26 billion biennial budget.

State government must stop treating state parks as an inconvenient stepchild and address the revenue needs of a fabulous parks system in a rapidly growing state. Whether recruiting or retaining businesses, or enticing tourists and conventions, state parks are among our greatest quality-of-life assets. They should be routinely funded as a priority of government.

To that end, I ask Gregoire to use her leadership skills to convene a parks summit this year and hammer out, once and for all, a long-term funding solution for state parks and recreation. Remember, the Washington State Parks Centennial celebration is just six years away; the British Columbia Olympics, only four.

Eliminating parking fees is not only a tax cut for all citizens. It also eliminates an unintended burden on local governments. Free county and city parks became magnets for low-income park lovers and middle-class families, saddling local governments’ already strapped budgets with another unfunded mandate. Rescinding parking fees will restore balance, not to mention quality of life for millions of Washington residents. It will reinvigorate rural economic development, where state parks are a key driver for diversification through tourism.

Once again, the welcome mat will be out. Washington will be the only Western state with free access to exceptional recreation and historic sites. The state tourism office should be ecstatic; there is no better grabber in advertising than the word free!

Nora Porter of Port Townsend is a member of the Fort Worden State Parks Advisory Committee.


Note: This is a very upbeat Op-Ed about the people of Washington being given back their right to enjoy their State Park system. This is wonderful news indeed.

Sadly, the government in Washington DC does not seem nearly so willing to give the American people back their right to enjoy their national forests and other, federally managed, public lands.

If the States can admit their mistake and undo the harm they did by pursuing ill-conceived recreation fee-policies, surely the Federal Government can be convinced to do likewise.

Now would be an excellent time to remind your Congressmen and Senators what you think of the Recreation Access Tax. Unlike Washington State, the agencies based in Washington DC will be charging you more, and higher, recreation fees this summer than in years past.

Contributed to by our friend:
Scott Silver, Wild Wilderness

Webmeister's note:  Scott Silver was one of the first activists to recognize the real threat of Fee Demo. Please take the time to read our Fee Demo postings below. Congress must restore traditional funding to our land management agencies, not sell them off to private enterprise!  --Webmeister Speik





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