After the public's lukewarm reception of the Discover Pass, the state Parks and Recreation Commission will be looking at everything from cutting staff to a businesslike promotion of its parks to make up for lost revenue.
OLYMPIA — After the public’s lukewarm reception of the Discover Pass, the state Parks and Recreation Commission will be looking at everything from cutting staff to a businesslike promotion of its parks to make up for lost revenue.
But this time around, closing parks is not on the table as the commission delves into a “worst-case-scenario” budget that would leave state parks with a $30 million shortfall.
“The Discover Pass is vital to our funding now. We’ve got to make it successful, and it’s not going to be successful if parks are closed,” said commission spokeswoman Sandy Mealing.
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Early this year, the Legislature created the Discover Pass, a parking fee to access all state lands. Eighty-five percent of the funds from the $30 annual pass goes to state parks. The rest is split between the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources.
State officials had hoped the pass would raise at least $64 million in the first two years, with $54 million for state parks, Mealing said.
But in the first four months after the pass was implemented on July 1, only $7.2 million resulted. Sales were expected to fall off after the summer season.
Mealing said there were no projections for how much the pass should have raised for the first four months. “Like any new program, you’ve got to give it time to get legs and be successful,” she said.
But the agency is preparing a new budget in case the Discover Pass falls short of goals. That budget includes $13 million less than anticipated through pass sales, and the possibility that lawmakers will decide to cut a $17 million general-fund allocation designed to help the agency until it can live on pass sales and other park fees.
“We’re looking at all avenues to basically live within our means if we don’t get the money we were expecting from the Discover Pass, or if general funds are cut,” Mealing said.
The strategy includes cutting expenses and increasing revenues, she said.
The changes could mean everything from cleaning toilets less often and having fewer staff available, to closing parks temporarily on specific slow days, she said. It could also mean more volunteers helping to maintain parks, or new fundraising efforts.
“We’re also looking at changing our operating model so we do act more like a businesses. We’re looking at all of our pricing structures, concessions, and leases,” Mealing said.
Almost three years ago, in the midst of budget cuts, the commission considered mothballing 33 state parks. Five more were transferred to other governments to operate.
But a public outcry left the commission looking for other ways to cut the budget. The commission started with a voluntary $5 donation that people would make when renewing vehicle licenses, then the Discover Pass.
Mealing said the biggest complaint about the pass is that it covers only one vehicle.
Many families have two and don’t think they should have to buy two passes, or pick only one car to use when they visit parks or other state lands.
She said the commission will propose a bill in January so that two vehicles can use the same pass.
In addition, she said, state parks hopes to sell more passes now that they’re available through the vehicle-license renewals.
Right now, the agency is pushing its winter sales, asking the public to “give the gift of the great outdoors this year” by purchasing a holiday Discover Pass for friends and family.
“We need the public’s help to make sure the Discover Pass is successful,” she said.