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Posted on: October 3, 2019

Washington State Parks recognized among top state park systems

OLYMPIA – Oct. 3, 2019 – The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission was recognized recently as a finalist for the 2019 National Gold Medal Award for Excellence at the National Recreation and Park Association annual conference in Baltimore.

The other finalists for the award were Florida State Parks, Maryland State Park Service and Tennessee State Parks. Florida State Parks won the award for the best state park system.

“We are honored to be recognized for the second time,” said Washington State Parks Commission Chair Cindy Whaley. “Our parks are magnificent. Our staff are so professional and amazing. And our volunteers and supporters are an integral part of our success. We truly do have one of the best state park systems in the nation.”

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission with NRPA award

From left to right: Washington State Parks and Recreation Commissioners Cindy Whaley,
Steve Milner and Mike Latimer, Director Don Hoch, Commissioners Ken Bounds, Diana Perez,
Mark Brown and Sophia Danenberg.

Founded in 1965, the Gold Medal Awards program honors communities in the U.S. that demonstrate excellence in parks and recreation through long-range planning, resource management, volunteerism, environmental stewardship, program development, professional development and agency recognition. Applications are separated into seven classes, with five classes based on population, one class for armed forces recreation and one class for state park systems awarded on odd-numbered years.

This is the second time Washington State Parks has been recognized among the top state parks system, the first time in 2017.

“All Washingtonians should take pride in this honor,” said Don Hoch, director of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. “The success of state parks in Washington really lies in the broad partnership between our incredibly hard-working staff, volunteers and friends, our dedicated board of commissioners, our Governor and legislature – and finally, the people of Washington who use and enjoy our parks, trails  and programs.” 

The Washington State Parks mission is to provide healthy recreational opportunities, resource stewardship and historic preservation, while connecting people to the state’s rich natural, historic and cultural assets. The Washington state park system is one of the largest and most diverse in the country, with 124 parks in nine distinct eco-regions.   

In the past several years, the agency has enhanced its work with friends’ groups and non-profit and corporate partners to create new opportunities and services for the public. The agency values its partnerships with Washington tribes and recently received state funding to continue work with the Nisqually Tribe to develop the next new full-service state park, where the tribe will tell its story. The Commission also recently joined the Rails to Trails Conservancy in celebrating the addition of the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail to the Great American Rail Trail connecting Washington D.C. to Washington State.

For more information on the Gold Medal Awards, visit or


The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission manages 124 state parks as well as 13 interpretive centers, 770 historic structures, a variety of heritage sites and 500 miles of long-distance trail. Statewide programs include Boating Safety and Winter Recreation programs. The park system receives 37 million visits annually, generating a total economic contribution of more than $1.4 billion a year. Washington State Parks was a finalist in the NRPA Gold Medal Awards program in 2017.

The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration is a non-profit organization founded to advance knowledge related to the administration of recreation and parks; to encourage scholarly efforts by both practitioners and educators that would enhance the practice of park and recreation administration; to promote broader public understanding of the importance of parks and recreation to the public good; and, to conduct research, publish scholarly papers and sponsor seminars related to the advancement of park and recreation administration. For more information, visit

The National Recreation and Park Association
The National Recreation and Park Association is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all Americans have access to parks and recreation for health, conservation and social equity. Through its network of 60,000 recreation and park professionals and advocates, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy and active lifestyles, conservation initiatives and equitable access to parks and public space. For more information, visit For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit

News media contacts:
Sandy Mealing, Communications Office, (360) 902-8559


News release number: 19-080

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