Saturday, March 21, 2009

Closing Washington State Parks Cost Twice as Much

Times are tough, and governments are having to close purse strings. Here in the State of Washington, state leaders are facing a potential deficit of nearly nine billion dollars. The governor recently asked Washington State Parks to figure out how to cut its budget by 23%, or $22.9 million, with direction to transfer some park properties to other jurisdictions, reduce service at others, and completely mothball still more.

The resulting list includes 33 parks that would be “mothballed,” or temporarily closed. The public could still access the listed parks, but only by foot. Parking areas and restroom facilities would be closed and park staff would either be reassigned or laid off. State Parks would realize roughly $8.4 million in savings should they and the Legislature ultimately agree on this approach.

This effects local parks like Lewis & Clark, and Rainbow Falls along with others that wildly popular like Millersylvania Memorial and Beacon Rock that I have written about in this blog.

This creates problems for many parks that have delicate land grant origins. Schafer State Park near Montesano was deeded to the State under the condition that it remain a state park, open to the public. in the absence of that stipulation, the State would have to give the park back to the Schafer family. Discussions of this sort are taking place all over the state.

Closing and shutting down our state parks is the wrong thing to do and many in Olympia know that. Many of them are built from the hard times during the depression era when leaders opened up public lands out of a stimulus necessity. A love affair was born, but ill-fated ideas during this latest round of financial troubles have different priorities in the lead.

State Parks are more often visited by local, lower and middle income user groups that can’t afford to travel farther to other regional and national parks. This takes away local opportunities from communities that are struggling to keep their own local parks, let alone campgrounds and other types of recreation available to its citizenry.

Let’s not forget the number of employees that will lose their seasonal and family wage jobs. The potential damage here is two-pronged with recreational opportunities limited while 33 local communities will feel a sharp financial jolt due to job losses and lost tourism.

We shouldn’t be closing parks. We should be keeping them open as the havens they are during tough times.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Oak Creek Wildlife Area Teeming with Eye Candy

Visitors to the Oak Creek Wildlife area can view large wildlif close up over the next few weeks.

For the next few weeks, the Oak Creek Wildlife area will allow visitors to view Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, California big horn sheep, and resident sage grouse. The wildlife migrates to the lower elevations of the Tieton and Naches River canyons to avoid the heavy snows in the upper elevations.

The Oak Creek Wildlife area is located about 15 miles west of Yakima and allows exploration of lands that are protected as wildlife habitat. Hunting is allowed in some areas with a permit, but most will find an opportunity to watch elk and other wildlife at close proximity. The land was purchased in 1939 for the purpose of protecting wildlife and the areas’ agricultural interests. There is nearly 100 miles of fencing to keep wildlife from damaging crops adjacent to the refuge.

Approximately 150 elk are fed per day at the Oak Creek Headquarters off U.S. Highway 12 near Naches, Washington.

Visitors are allowed to drive all over the property with only a few roads described as not suitable for cars. Hiking, camping and exploring are also permitted with some seasonal restrictions. The needs of wildlife comes first, and closures occur during sensitive nesting seasons for eagles, hawks and falcons as well as winter recovery seasons for larger mammals like elk and deer.

About a mile west of the junction of Highway 410 on Highway 12, is the small Oak Creek visitor center that allows curious sightseers the opportunity to view wildlife from the comfort of their vehicle. Tour trucks that are supported by donations are available most weekends during winter. Since the wildlife does not consider the truck a threat, riders can view the animals from as close as ten feet.

Elk are the most common large mammal sighted, but visitors can also see the more shy California Bighorn Sheep that were reintroduced into Washington after native populations were wiped out in the 1930s.

For those that are more enthused about the wildlife, you can “adopt” an elk or sheep for $35 to $50. The refuge generally spends about that much to feed a single animal per winter. The winter population may number up to 800 animals in a serious winter.
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