Budget cuts have forced a shuffling of staff at Birch Bay State Park, with three employees getting laid off or shifted elsewhere and the park taking on a new full-time ranger.
The Washington State Parks Commission has been reducing state park budgets over the past few years in response to reduced funding from the state legislature. The $30-per-year Discover Pass was put in place to help fund state parks, but lower-than-expected revenue from the pass has forced parks across the state to cut staff.
In the case of 194-acre Birch Bay State Park, the cuts mean one less construction maintenance worker and one less full-time ranger position, park manager Ted Morris said. The cuts have also brought in a new ranger, Ken Ross, an 11-year state parks veteran who was stationed at Lake Chelan State Park up until a month ago.
Ross and his family – a wife and three children – were shifted to Birch Bay State Park after his position was cut at Lake Chelan. Due to state parks commission seniority rules, Ross was able to “bump” Brad Allison, a less senior ranger at Birch Bay. Such staff reorganization has been an all-too-common theme as state parks across Washington face declining revenue from Olympia.
“This amount of people moving across the state because of seniority bumping is the largest I’ve ever seen,” Morris said.
Birch Bay was one of a handful of parks Ross had requested to be sent to after he was cut from Lake Chelan, where he had been a ranger for six years. Lake Chelan State Park closes down in the winter, so Ross said he will have to get used to handling maintenance issues and park visitors year-round; though he is happy to still work at a state park when colleagues of his have not been so lucky.
“I was very glad to get that phone call,” Ross said. “I have a sense that my fellow coworkers across the state are feeling the changes; we’re all doing the best we can.”
After being forced to cut the two full-time positions, Morris was allowed to add back a full-time senior park aide, seasonal ranger and seasonal office assistant position. While Allison was laid off from his ranger post, Morris hopes he will be able to hire him back as a senior park aide or seasonal ranger.
A senior park aide supervises other park aides and typically has more experience in the state parks system, Morris explained. Park aides in general clean restrooms, do mowing, grounds maintenance, garbage pick up and some office work.
Morris said the park was fortunate to not have to cut any of its six seasonal park aide positions, which typically work two and four months in the busy summer season. The first ones come in May while the last are usually gone by September.
“By July 4th, we’re pretty much ratcheted up to full capacity,” Morris said.
Come spring and summer, Morris said he, Ross and the park aides will work hard to keep staffing cuts as unnoticeable as possible to park visitors. He said the most significant impact staffing cuts have on state parks is the build up of construction maintenance projects, such as replacing the tile in one of the camp restroom showers. Morris predicts deferred maintenance projects will catch up with Birch Bay State Park and parks across the state eventually.
“All the materials are there, but not the staff,” Morris said.
Morris said the most recent cuts to state park funding are the largest he’s seen in his 38 years of working for the Washington state parks system. In the 2011/13 budget cycle, only 12 percent of the parks commission budget came from the state general fund with a third coming from annual and day park-access-pass revenue. Based on current trends, Morris estimated no state parks money will come from the state’s general fund by the 2013/15 biennium.
“I don’t think it’s a sustainable way to run one of the best parks programs in the country,” Morris said.