There was a time when I would hike every week, and when for a cheap vacation we would take the kids to a state park somewhere, and they would fuss about it. ‘It’s just a bunch of trees, big deal!’
But going up to Mt. Rainier and having a ranger explain the difference between pink snow and yellow snow — pink snow is algae, yellow snow is somebody’s dog — it’s fun; you get some fresh air.
Then as the state began to run short on money everybody got the idea, well, we can privatize parks. Pay for them by charging a fee, and people love ’em so they’ll pay.
So we tried admission fees, then parking fees, then the Discover pass, a donation when you renewed your car registration.
The result of all those innovative ideas is, apparently, the front page story in Sunday’s Seattle Times that on the 100th anniversary of the state park system, the parks are in worse shape than ever. Exhibits are closed, facilities are deteriorating, entire parks have been closed, the rangers who used to talk to you about the animals and the trees spend their time cruising lots for parking passes, and these little pieces of our history are decaying.
There’s a photo of former Sec. State Ralph Monroe on the porch of the John Jackson House in Chehalis, one of the original homesteads, where the foundation is rotting away.
We all believe in trying new ideas because it sounds great. Make everything self-funded. But we’ve tried it now. And it looks like it’s time to pronounce the idea of a fee-based park system a failure.
You can’t put a fence around a park and charge for it like you would Disneyland. You can’t put a turnstile at a trail head. If you let it go too far, it’ll go back to the days when you’d run into to squatters, drug camps and pretty soon, nobody wants to take their family there anymore.
According to the article, even some of the legislators who thought the fees would work have now figured out that they don’t, and they’re actually going to restore part of the parks budget. You go to most parks and you realize — we’re still using what the Roosevelt administration did in the 1930’s.
At some point you have to ask what we’re going to do to pass it forward.
There ought to be places where even if you don’t have a lot of money you can take the family and spend an afternoon or a weekend away from things that ding and vibrate.