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Monday, May 4, 2009

State Parks spared from budget axe

You won't have to cancel your trip to a Washington state park this summer thanks to some actual creative thinking by the Legislature.

In March, Washington State Parks announced the possible closure of up to forty parks as a way to deal with a $23 million park budget cut.

From a system of around 125 parks, that would have put about a third into "mothball," or low maintenance state, greatly reducing the number of places that Washingtonians could go to escape the stress of the world of people and to capture the peace of the world of nature.

Deception Pass State Park, Island County

In just two speedy weeks, a bill to capture the money needed to keep all of our state parks open passed both chambers of the legislature and was sent to the governor. House Bill 2239 changed the current five dollar state park donation "opt in" feature on car and truck registration renewals to an "opt out" feature. Vehicle owners will now have to choose notto donate five dollars to fund state parks.

Yes, this method could seem slightly deceptive, but it is still a voluntary fee only affecting those that have the means to own a vehicle. Since Washington doesn't charge a day-use fee at its parks, your five dollar donation is a reasonable price to pay for unlimited daytime park usage over the course of a year.

Think of it as a membership fee for one of the most cherished treasures of our state, our wild places. In times of anxiety, parks give us an inexpensive place to free our minds and spend memorable times with family.

Washington's state parks annually host forty million visitors, supporting local economies that rely on the visitors for their business.

Since you get lots of bang for your buck at state parks, they are bound to be a popular destination during this summer of saving, and with 125 to choose from, you don't have to go far to find one. Our parks are an important part of the common wealth, an example of public investment that benefits everyone and a necessary component of a healthy society.

Ironically, with more people with free time on their hands lately, park volunteerism is going strong, with volunteers restoring Depression era Works Progress Administration structures. It seems that President Roosevelt's own federal stimulus projects are still valued today, and in economic downturns, investment in our public spaces is still a smart expenditure.

While we applaud legislators for finding a creative way to continue to fund our parks, we don't see why we should stop there. We challenge legislators to keep thinking of ways to fund other essential public services like education and healthcare. Where there's a will, there must be a way.

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