Budget crunch may force closing trails, camps

Budget crunch may force closing trails, camps

Credit: USGS file photo

West face of Mt. Si near North Bend, WA.


by Associated Press


Posted on January 11, 2010 at 3:07 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 11 at 7:21 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. -  The state Department of Natural Resources would close more than 20 trails, campgrounds and interpretive centers in March under Gov. Chris Gregoire's cash-strapped supplemental budget.

Among the proposed closures are the Mount Si and Little Si trails near North Bend, two of the state's most popular routes with an estimated combined use each year by more than 500,000 people. Also facing closure is the Mima Mounds interpretive center near Littlerock.

Outdoor recreation groups will lobby the Legislature, which starts its session Monday, to find the $276,000 in general fund money needed to keep the trails and recreation areas open.

"Losing public access to these areas for even a season would be a disaster," said Jonathan Guzzo, advocacy director for the Washington Trails Association. "These are important family outdoor getaways close to urban areas."

"Once the public sees this list of closures, they'll demand action from their legislators," said state Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources, Oceans and Recreation Committee.

Mark Mauren, a DNR assistant division manager assigned to recreation, said the agency's recreation program will run out of general-fund money in late March. The program already had its budget cut 50 percent last year.

The general-fund money pays for such things as trail maintenance; replacing signs, picnic tables and corrals; pumping outhouses; and training volunteers.

In the short term, DNR would need an infusion of general-fund money to keep the trails and camps open, Mauren said. Eventually, DNR wants to use user fees to help finance its recreation programs.

A bill to be introduced in the House and the Senate this session would give DNR the authority to charge the fees for some sites and events, and would direct DNR, state Parks and Recreation and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to explore creating a single pass for access to lands managed by the three agencies.

It also would allow private concessionaires to try two pilot projects at DNR recreation sites, and would grant the DNR immunity from recreation-related lawsuits, something the parks agency and Fish and Wildlife have already.

"I think the bill has a chance," Jacobsen said, adding that the poor economy and budget crunch have legislators looking at options to generate revenue.

DNR's list of affected trails and facilities:

South Puget Sound Region: Little Si trailhead, Mount Si trailhead, Middle Fork Snoqualmie trails, Rattlesnake trails.

Northwest Region: Cattle Point and trail, Cattle Point lighthouse, Cypress Head campground, Lummi Island campground.

Northeast Region: Dragoon Creek campground, Lake Spokane campground, Leader Lake, Palmer Lake.

Southeast: Indian Camp, Milwaukee Road corridor.

Pacific Cascades Region: McLane Creek day-use area, Mima Mounds interpretive center, Butte Creek picnic area and trail.

Olympic Region: Little River trailhead, Bear Creek campground, Lyre River campground, Minnie Peterson campground, Willoughby Creek campground.