|Formed 1913 (1913)|
|Headquarters Olympia, Washington, United States|
Annual budget 148.6 million USD (2011–13 biennium)
The Washington State Park System is a set of state parks owned by the state government of Washington, USA. They are managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. As of 2012, the parks are primarily funded through usage fees. There are over 100 parks throughout the state, including 19 marine parks and 11 Historical Parks.
The park system was established in 1913 by the creation of the Washington State Board of Park Commissioners. The first two parks were formed from donated land in 1915, and by 1929 the state had seven parks. In 1947 the State Parks Committee was renamed to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and given authority to oversee the state park system. By 1960 the number of state parks had increased to 130.
Park Rangers are full-authority law enforcement officers while they are on State Park lands. Under state law Park Rangers are considered to be limited authority law enforcement officers since their law enforcement authority is only applicable on lands owned by State Parks. Park Rangers attend either the Parks Law Enforcement Academy (PLEA) held each winter at Skagit Valley Community College or the Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA) at the Criminal Justice Training Center. Park Rangers are usually dispatched by the Washington State Patrol.
In 2003, the Washington State Legislature introduced a $5-a-day parking fee, meant to fund park-related construction projects; more than a quarter of the fees collected went into the fee-collection system itself. Park use decreased more than 15% under the fees. The fee was rescinded in early 2006, returning the state park system to its status of the only system in the West without day-use fees.
The sources of funding for Washington State Parks have shifted in recent years. The state's budget, which is enacted biennially (every two years), has faced multibillion-dollar deficits. Washington's 2007–09 budget provided most of the funding for the state parks from the general tax fund, however with each successive budget that share has decreased. It is anticipated that this trend will continue into the 2013–15 budget.
In an effort to make up for the lost funding, in 2011 the state legislature enacted a $10 day-use permit and a $30 annual pass, called the "Discover Pass", for vehicles to enter State Parks, lands owned or managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and designated lands of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Funds generated from the sale of the Discover Pass are deposited into the Recreation Access Pass Account. The new fees did not raise as much money as was hoped, though another effort to encourage donation when renewing certain state licenses (including driver's licenses) was more successful than officials expected.
The difficulty of funding State Parks with a one-size-fits-all pass system is highlighted by the situation at Lake Sammamish State Park. There are four other large parks on Lake Sammamish. Marymoor Park, operated by King County at the north end of the lake, charges $1.00 for parking. Marymoor is large - like Lake Sammamish, but routinely fills its lots and activities. In Idylwood Park, a Redmond City Park on the NW shore of the lake with a swimming beach, parking is free. At Vasa Park, a private park in Bellevue at the southwest corner of the lake that also has a swimming beach, parking is $5.00, but the facilities are attractive and well-maintained. At Timberlake Park, an Issaquah City Park which is roughly one mile from Lake Sammamish Park and also has a swimming beach, parking is free. The combination of relatively high parking fees, relatively poor maintenance and service levels in the Park, and the fact that most revenues collected in the park go to Olympia and are not spent in the park itself, is a difficult obstacle to overcome.
In the 2012 legislative session the state legislature adopted new laws to the "Discover Pass" program. These changes included allowing the pass to be used between two vehicles, creating the option for the three agencies to offer a family pass (it has not up to now been offered), and requiring the funds generated from tickets issued for failing to have a pass to be deposited into the Recreation Access Pass Account. Previously these funds went to the local county government and the state general fund. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has focused on reducing park staff to keep a balanced budget, worrying that closing parks would have a counterproductive impact on Discover Pass sales. One criticism of the Discover Pass program is that it is too expensive for a one-day parking pass and too cheap for an annual or seasonal pass. California State Parks, for example, has a much wider range of fees, and does not try to charge the same amounts for urban parks like Lake Sammamish or Bridle Trails as it does for rural campgrounds. On the other hand, in the three years of existence of the pass, participation in the program has steadily grown. The Discover Pass program is projected to generate nearly $20 million in 2015, making it the 5th highest income generating state recreational pass in the country.