Politics & Government

Might want to make backup plans if you intend to visit a state park over July Fourth

A sign points the way to Puget Sound at Dash Point State Park. A government shutdown would mean closure of parks across Washington.
A sign points the way to Puget Sound at Dash Point State Park. A government shutdown would mean closure of parks across Washington. Staff writer

It might be good to make backup plans if you’re one of the estimated 1.4 million people planning to visit a state park over the Fourth of July weekend and the week following.

If lawmakers can’t pull together a budget by midnight on June 30, state parks will be closed as part of a partial government shutdown. Thousands of reservations for campers, parties and weddings would be canceled. Entry by car for all visitors would be blocked off, too.

Such a shutdown isn’t certain, and top legislators maintain it’s unlikely. Yet lawmakers are in their third special session negotiating the next two-year budget and grappling with complicated court-ordered fixes to the way the state pays for K-12 schools.

They must reach a deal before the current budget expires July 1 or else more than 30,000 state employees could be laid off and a host of government services paused until the next budget is approved.

That includes state parks, which essentially would lose all of its employees and services, said Virginia Painter, the Communications Director for Washington State Parks.

Painter said that people who have their reservations canceled would be refunded fully, but those already camping in parks on July 1 would have to leave early.

The agency sent notices to about 11,000 reservation holders this week letting them know of the possibility of a shutdown. That includes campers, and people using cabins, yurts, shelters and more. The agency also notified contractors and parks employees.

Painter said it’s not “strictly illegal” for visitors to head into parks for a visit anyways, although she said her department strongly discourages it.

“Inside the park there are no facilities, no restrooms, no systems, no people to help if something goes wrong,” she said.

The July Fourth weekend is an especially busy time for state parks, Painter said. The state stands to lose at least $2 million from camping and other reservations as well as Discover Pass fees between June 30 and July 7 if there’s a shutdown, according to a fact sheet prepared by the state Office of Financial Management.

That money earned from parks, through fees and other charges, makes up about 76 percent of the parks department’s operating budget.

“Most of our business is on the big holiday weekends in the summer, so that means most of the visitation is happening then,” Painter said. “So it really does have a big impact.”

Painter said the department is hopeful a shutdown would be avoided, but she said it’s still a concern.

“We’re hoping for the best, planning for the worst — that sort of thing,” she said.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein