By Russ and Tiña De Maris
As state park managers continue to find themselves caught in the middle of trying to keep the parks up and running and ever-shrinking budgets, two states in the Northwest are trying to get creative.
Back in 2007, Washington park managers were handed nearly $95 million from the state’s general fund to keep their parks going for a two-year period. This biennium, they were handed just $21 million – less than a quarter of the amount those few years back. Part of this loss was to be filled by sales of park passes, and the rest of the loss? Perhaps lawmakers figured the parks could conduct bake sales.
But bake sales aren’t the most practical approach to fundraising, particularly when big dollars are required. A little out-of-the-box thinking is what Evergreen State park managers are now trying – and some of the approaches might benefit RVers. One big thing that just might help is filling up otherwise empty RV slots and rental cabins by offering discounts when park visitation is low. Under the park agency’s current reservation system, if a cabin or RV space is empty, it still goes for the same rate. State officials say that once they get a new reservation system in place, that won’t be the case. If a space is open, park managers can offer it for less money.
Another approach being mulled over is something that outfits like Flying J and other fuel sellers have used to their advantage for ages: Customer loyalty programs. Consider it a “frequent camper discount,” wherein the more you camp in the system, the more likely you are to get a discount to bring you back the next time for less. No word on whether the chiefs in Olympia will adopt it, but it’s another thought.
Next door in Idaho, when park officials were putting together a wish-list for their budget makers, they decided not to ask for a budget increase. That’s probably a good thing, because they would have been more than disappointed: Idaho’s governor chopped the park budget by more than 2 percent. Still, park officials aren’t huddled up, figuring out how to cut back services – they actually plan on making more improvements.
How so? More creative thinking to the fore in the big potato state. Park prodigies have found that there’s actually money to be made in having a campground – so they’re planning on building another loop at the already existing Farragut State Park on the southern tip of Lake Pend Oreille, up on the panhandle. Officials declare that overnight stays are “our bread and butter.” Entice more overnighters with campgrounds and cabins, and watch the dollars come along.
Other creative thinking that Idaho has found useful involves sandboard rentals. Sandboards? Yeah, think of snowboarding, only instead of the white stuff users hurl themselves downhill on sand dunes. If you think this sounds like something interesting (other than terrifying), stop by Bruneau Dunes State Park, but beware, the program is so popular that at times you may not be able to rent a board because the enthusiastic downdune boarders have already rented the stock of boards out.
Creative thinking goes a long way. For Idaho state parks, these days only about 10 percent of parks’ funding comes from the state budget. That’s thinking that far exceeds your average Mr. Potatohead.