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March 18, 2014 at 10:44 AM

Happy birthday, state parks: Get in free Wednesday (or buy a pass and help save them)

Visitors look out from an observation tower atop Mount Constitution in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. (photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Visitors look out from an observation tower atop Mount Constitution in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. (photo by Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Help celebrate the 101st birthday of Washington State Parks on Wednesday. Admission to all state parks is free for the day, a nice thing if you can’t afford a Discover Pass, usually required for entry.

But here’s another idea. You know how fire departments have made the change to daylight saving time into a “replace the battery in your smoke detector” day? Why not make the park system’s March 19 birthday into a “check to see if your Discover Pass is still good” day?

If you can afford the $30-a-year Discover Pass, but just haven’t gotten around to buying one, make it a birthday present to state parks. If you’ve bought one in the past, check to see if it’s still good (they last a year from the date purchased). Another easy way to buy: Purchase through the state Department of Licensing when you renew your car license tabs, and renew at the same time every year.

Here’s why to do it:  Legislators continue to cut the park system’s share of General Fund revenue. As recently as 2009, the parks’ two-year share of the General Fund — tax revenues that can be divvied up for any purpose — was $94.5 million. Just five years later that allocation has shrunk to $8.5 million, a 91 percent cut.

That’s like seeing your $60,000 paycheck reduced to $5,400. Could you get by?

To meet the funding emergency, lawmakers have shifted money from such funds as boating recreation and litter control to temporarily make up a chunk of that loss. But it’s clearly a Robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul situation. Eventually, Peter starves, too.

Meanwhile, many of Washington’s 117 parks, 700 historic buildings and 33 heritage centers and interpretive sites are showing signs of neglect and even abandonment as a result. Deferred maintenance costs are approaching half a billion dollars. (Click here to see a Seattle Times analysis written last year on the occasion of the park system’s centennial.)

If all was right and just, parks would be open to everyone, at no charge, every day. But until  lawmakers come up with a reliable permanent funding plan, the Discover Pass is one way to help keep the gates open and the buildings from falling down. Here’s how to buy one.

 

Comments | Topics: Discover Pass, state parks anniversay, state parks budget

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