South Sound state parks need locals to step up
THE NEWS TRIBUNE
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s critics say her proposal to close 13 state parks is little more than a ruse intended to work the public into a tizzy.
They are only half right.
The governor certainly understands the power of state parks. Gregoire is getting a lot of bang out of that measly $3.5 million in savings she was able to wring from the closures. Nothing says “austerity” like barring entrance to some of nature-loving Washingtonians’ favorite patches of wilderness.
But this is not the usual ploy to get voters to flood lawmakers’ offices with phone calls and thus bolster the case for unsustainable spending. (Or at least it’s not only that.)
The 13 parks on Gregoire’s chopping block weren’t selected at random, or by Gregoire. They were identified by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission nearly three years ago – in good times – as marginal properties.
A planning process for state parks’ centennial in 2013 identified the 13 parks as “potentially consistent” with the system’s mission – a nice way of saying they are lacking the “oomph” and amenities that would make them more of a draw.
Not that the parks aren’t gems in their own right. In the South Sound, the threatened 13 include Joemma and Kopachuck in Pierce County and Tolmie in Thurston County. These are spots beloved for their scenery, solitude and beach access. But the quiet scruffiness that endears them to locals also might make them ill-suited for status as state parks.
In a better economy, the parks system might have fought instead to secure money for the necessary improvements. But the state’s budget woes are forcing tough choices.
And that’s not all for the worse. If these 13 parks would be more fitting as city, county or regional parks, as the parks commission contends, then perhaps it is in the best interests of the state parks system to shed them now – while there is the political will to make such unpopular decisions.
Jettisoning them would allow the parks system to focus its always limited resources on the remaining 108 state parks, which have chronic backlogs of deferred maintenance.
The good news is that the state has no intention of selling park land. It’s looking for local governments or nonprofits to take the parks on; if none emerges before Labor Day, the parks would be mothballed until willing operators could be found.
If state officials have misjudged the worth of Joemma, Kopachuck and Tolmie to the state system, then parks supporters should challenge them. If not, the community is better off putting energy into considering how to save these precious assets.