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Editorial: Park systems face slow death

Details are shown on one of more than 40 boulders with Indian rock petroglyphs located at a public viewing area at Columbia Hills State Park in Washington.

Details are shown on one of more than 40 boulders with Indian rock petroglyphs located at a public viewing area at Columbia Hills State Park in Washington. Associated Press

The Astorian, April 9, on degenerating state park systems:

“For a generation, the state has made repeated cuts to state park funding while offering the impression that the cuts would have little effect.” This quote, which happens to come from California, can be applied to state park systems everywhere in the U.S.

Even in Oregon, where a user-fee system is well accepted and keeps parks open, it is certain that long-term maintenance and planning would benefit from an enhanced funding stream.

In Washington, where 117 parks draw many visitors from surrounding states, the situation is grim, as the system marks its 100th anniversary.

After first attempting to completely force parks off the general-fund budget “cold turkey,” the Legislature has kept some life support flowing. The current budget making its way through the Republican-led state Senate would provide $16.4 million between this July and 2015 — an 80 percent cut from the 2007-09 budget.

Thirty parks will close altogether and another 30-plus will be open less often, officials warn. Throughout the Washington system and nationwide, an additional issue beyond closure is lack of investment in buildings and other infrastructure — what might be called slow closure by neglect.

Meanwhile, Washington’s $30-per-year parking pass has consistently fallen far short of revenue expectations.

At the same time, it has alienated many state residents and turned park employees into a cadre of meter maids and meter men. The entire process has been a public-relations fiasco.

In Pacific County, as in much of the rural Pacific Northwest, relatively low-income residents feel estranged from parks they helped create via bequests and volunteer labor. Instead of 11 newly inaugurated “free days” on weekends, the parks department could go a fair way toward restoring public good will by making all or most weekdays free throughout much of the year.

As for the deeper question of what should be done to keep parks open, the fact is that a number should be closed or transferred to counties and cities.

Particularly in Washington, which is struggling with a Supreme Court mandate to drastically improve school funding, some lightly used parks are unaffordable luxuries on a long list of higher priorities.

Some should not have been brought into the system in the first place, while others will have to be mothballed for now.

A well-focused, sustainable park network at a level taxpayers are willing to support is preferable to one that must be allowed to slowly rot away.

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