The gates of Peace Arch State Park will remain open despite a potential $22.9 million budget cut to Washington State Parks. The announcement came just several days after the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission released a list of 40 state parks endanger of a July 1, 2009 closure.
Commission director Rex Derr announced Peace Arch State Park would be taken off the list of parks potentially at risk because of its national and international significance. The 22.9 percent budget cuts initially threatened to close the park for the first time in 88 years.
park, which United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association (USCPAA)
founder Christina Alexander said was built for the people and by the
people in 1921, was the only park to be taken off the list.
The budget cuts are part of Governor Christine Gregoire’s operating budget reduction plan for the commission’s 2009-2011 biennium.
Originally, the proposed cost reductions were estimated at $10 million, a 10 percent decrease from the system’s last two-year operating period.
In light of the growing budget deficit however, the governor has now recommended the commission prepare for a much more significant decrease to the organization’s overall operating costs.
The preliminary cuts were to include reducing regional offices and equipment replacement programs, eliminating “extra” services like concession stands and educational assistance, and expanding seasonal closures.
With almost $13 million in additional cuts needed to meet Gregoire’s required budget plan, commission director of budget Ilene Frisch said something else drastic needed to be done.
“We’re looking at each of the parks and their operating costs to help us determine the best plan of action,” Frisch said. “Unfortunately we are leaving all of [the other] parks on list at this time, knowing that we may be able to pull more in the future.”
Frisch said due to its proximity to the Canadian-American border, potential visitation and the upcoming 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, the commission felt it was important to keep Peace Arch State Park open.
The second round of budget cuts are still threatening to permanently and temporarily close dozens of other parks, including Larrabee State Park, based on annual attendance, revenue and park expenditures.
Frisch said the commission will have a better idea of park closures in several weeks when the House and Senate come closer to making their final budget proposals.
“We need budget numbers. We need to know what our budget is going to be,” Frisch said. “When we have that information and when we know what reduction level they are going to make in our agency, we can determine how many state parks we can fund.”
This waiting game is something Alexander is all too familiar with. Peace Arch park has been on the hit list twice before Gregoire’s February 18 recommendation and the commission’s March 5 announcement of potential closures. The first was in 1999, the second in 2000.
Alexander said she and the rest of the USCPAA remained optimistic despite the economic downfalls that jeopardized the park’s future. A petition was made available for community members to sign at peacearchpark.org, which Alexander said she still plans to take to Olympia on April 23 for the commission’s next regular meeting.
“The public has given the Washington State Parks Commission a greater awareness and understanding of the importance of this park that is entrusted to them to care for,” Alexander said. “I will still take the opportunity to go to the commission meeting and present our findings and our research on international peace parks and where Peace Arch International Park fits in.”
Alexander said all normal events and activities are proceeding on schedule at this time. The Twelfth Annual Peace Arch Park International Sculpture Exhibition will still be installed on April 11 and the first International Peace Arch Camp will be held June 13 through 14.
Besides reductions, Frisch said the commission is looking at increasing propriety user fees and charges for things such as camping and over night accommodations at parks.
A $2 increase may be seen due to the governor’s budget recommendations. This would not, however, affect Peace Arch park, which is for day use only. Alexander said this is one of the reasons the park has continuously been threatened with closure – it creates nearly no revenue at all.
According to the commission’s March 5 meeting agenda, Peace Arch Park has an annual total revenue of $12,042 and $242,762 annual park expenditures.
The system would have saved $230,720 a year if the park was closed or mothballed – when only limited maintenance is upheld.
The park has 265,033 visitors every year and Alexander speculated that was one of the reasons the park was saved. The biggest reason? It is the only park in the state park system on an international border, she said.
“It would have been an international incident had the commission decided to close the park,” Alexander said. “All parks are created equal, but the Peace Arch State Park is in a class of its own.”