State Parks Funding

2015 Legislative Session and Washington State Parks' Budget

The following fact sheets describe how current operating budget proposals under negotiation in the Washington State Legislature will affect funding for Washington State Parks in the upcoming 2015-17 biennium. At the core of the discussion is how much public tax support should be approved to help keep state parks on a healthy and sustainable path. 

Financing in the 2013-15 Biennium

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission believes that additional investment in state parks is essential if the park system is to remain healthy and contribute to visitor enjoyment and economic vitality.

State Parks' significant financing challenge began during the 2009-11 Biennium. A change in State policy resulted in a majority of the agency's financing being shifted away from the relative certainty of General Fund to a greater reliance on earned revenue. This rapid change and resulting decrease in funding caused deep reductions in staffing, programs and overall operations of our parks.

The following chart shows General Fund, traditionally the core funding for park operations, has been reduced from $94.5 million in 2007-09 to just $8.7 million in the current budget cycle.

Reduction in available resources for State Parks
2013-15 Revenues vs Operating Budget chart
*Other does not include dedicated funds (Winter Recreation, Boating Safety, Roads, etc.)
  Other does not include: 
  • 2009-11 - Recreation Resource Account, Non-highway and Off-Road Vehicle Program Account
  • 2011-13 - Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account
  • 2013-15 - Litter tax
To make up lost General Fund support, the Discover Pass was created to increase earned revenue. The original revenue expectations for the Discover Pass program were not met, but subsequent projections based on actual sales trends are now being realized, and the program is showing modest growth year to year. Discover Pass revenues, together with donations, overnight accommodations and other earned revenues are essential to the state parks budget today and have contributed to keeping parks open. But these sources are not adequate to sustain the future of the park system. The chart below shows the current mix of operating resources.

Resources available - earned revenue and taxes
2013-15 Revenue and taxes chart

The last several years of reduced funding and subsequent downsizing has resulted in greater uncertainty, decreases in service levels and reduced levels of general maintenance of parks. The shift away from "known" operating dollars to dollars that must be earned before spending has contributed to increased uncertainty in managing the park system. While a dedicated staff has worked hard to fill the gaps and cover the work, the Commission has said the current situation is simply not sustainable.

In 2012, the Commission analyzed its situation closely and took a strong position that the park system benefits all Washingtonians and therefore is appropriately funded in part by broad-based public funding to supplement access fees, donations and other earned revenue. This balanced approach to funding also would support the broad mission and public purpose of the park system.

State Parks 2015-17 request: Moving toward a healthy park system

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission submitted  a 2015-17 Operating Budget request of $153 million and a Capital Budget request of $96 million to the Office of Financial Management.

The requested budget levels are set to reverse the decline of state parks, services and facilities following several years of reductions and to put State Parks on a path toward a healthy and sustainable park system. 

The 2015-17 Operating Budget request is designed to build lost core service capacity in many areas and to focus needed resources to maintain and care for park facilities that encourage state park use. The operating request includes:

  • Staffing to provide essential park services and interaction with visitors
  • Staffing to perform day-to-day and seasonal maintenance of parks and facilities
  • Restoration of core stewardship activities, including addressing tree risk issues and maintaining forest health
  • Investing in partnerships that can help sustain the park system
  • Rebuilding effective volunteer programs with the staffing required to manage and direct volunteer efforts

Meanwhile, the State Parks Capital Budget request of $96 million is for park projects in all areas of the state. Commission projects were chosen specifically to reduce risk; protect natural and cultural heritage; generate revenue; reduce operating costs; encourage use of parks; and engage volunteers and donors. Examples include:

  • Infrastructure repair and upgrade for water systems, electrical systems and wastewater and sewer systems
  • Bridges, trail crossings and trail replacement, repair and improvement
  • Historic building repairs, restorations and rehabilitations
  • Facilities projects that reduce maintenance backlog
  • Road repairs and stabilizations, comfort station replacements
  • New cabins and yurts, park and campground improvements, welcome center replacements and park restorations, technology connectivity, event infrastructure

For more information, please see the State Parks capital budget fact sheet. View the agency's 2015-17 operating and capital requests on the Office of Financial Management website.