Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Washington State Parks ranks high in visits, vs. U.S. peers

by August 27th, 2012

Washington State Parks ranked sixth out of 50 systems for combined day and overnight visitors, according to the 2012 Annual Information Exchange report prepared for the National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD) by researchers at North Carolina State University. It is the most recent available; the next version will be published early next year. It shows that despite having just 120,555 acres, less than half the average for state parks systems nationwide, Washington State Parks from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011 drew 38.8 million patrons, more than any other states except California, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Illinois. (See chart on p. 19).

The report also underscores that the emerging and serious fiscal challenges faced by Washington State Parks – reported on recently by The Seattle Times and by the state’s public affairs channel TVW – are common to all other state parks systems in the U.S., particularly if their operating budgets are analyzed as a percentage of overall state operating budgets. (This excludes capital, or construction, budgets.)

Nationwide, the 50 states spent an average of 0.217 percent of their full operating budgets on state parks operating budgets; for the year ending June 30, 2011. Washington was fractionally higher at 0.244 percent. But even the systems which receive the biggest jolt of operating support from their states still get well below one percent. New York leads the pack with 0.742 percent for parks, followed by Delaware at 0.453, Nebraska at 0.439 and Colorado at 0.374. (See chart on p. 31). Washington State Parks’ direct operating support from the state is to be dialed down to zero next year.

Public Data Ferret’s Washington State/Finance+Budget archive

Given the increasing emphasis by the state legislature on the need to increase revenues through concessions, sales, services, sponsorships and other creative arrangements which could include public-private partnerships, Washington State Parks may need to improve its performance in both dollar terms and national ranking in total parks system revenues raised by means other than camping and lodgings fees. One slice of this pie is the revenue reporting category in the NASPD report including intake from restaurants, concessions, beaches/pools, golf courses and other sources. In this category for the most recent year reported, WSP was 17th out of 50 states, and raised just slightly more than the $20 million average of the 50 state systems. (See chart on p. 40).

In combined revenue from entrance fees and rentals of cabins, cottages, lodges and group facilities, Washington State Parks earned $17.4 million in the last annual NASPD reporting period, about $736,000 more than the national average. (See chart on p. 40).

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