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.
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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.
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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.