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March 23, 2013 at 9:44 PM

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Budget-starved parks mark grim centennial


BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Maurya Broadsword, a worker at Kittitas County's Olmstead Place State Park, walks through a water-damaged, moth-infested bedroom of the site's historic home. A worn sign near Chehalis, top, marks the John R. Jackson House, which has started to rot.

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BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

As funding is cut for state parks, and funds aren't flowing in as expected from the sale of the Discover Pass for parking, many state parks are understaffed and/or falling into disrepair.

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

This roadside interpreter's exhibit on old growth forest near Lewis and Clark State Park is closed after falling into disrepair about a year ago. Lack of manpower and funding makes jobs like this take the back-burner as staff is stretched thin due to budget cuts.

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

The sign outside the John R. Jackson House shows wear and tear, like the house itself, which is starting to rot in disrepair. The structure, which is park of Jackson House State Park, pre-dates Washington's statehood and the homestead served the early community there as a post office, grocery store, tavern, inn and courthouse. The state's first territorial governor, Issac Stevens, and his wife stayed there, among other dignitaries. There used to be a seasonal interpreter to lead tours and keep up with the maintenance, but the position has long been eliminated. The building is locked at all times and only tended to when necessary with limited staff.

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Pam Wilkins, Area Manager for the Upper Cowlitz River State Parks, locks the door to the John R. Jackson House while Ralph Munro, former Washington Secretary of State, stands on the porch. The structure, which is park of Jackson House State Park, pre-dates Washington's statehood and the homestead served the early community there as a post office, grocery store, tavern, inn and courthouse. The state's first territorial governor, Issac Stevens, and his wife stayed there, among other dignitaries. There used to be a seasonal interpreter to lead tours and keep up with the maintenance, but the position has long been eliminated. The building is locked at all times and only tended to when necessary with limited staff. "In many cases like this one, they were donated by individual families, who didn't charge us for them, who gave them to the state and entrusted their care and their upkeep and their future in the state," said Munro. "And now, we're breaking that trust, we're violating that trust, and that's wrong."

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Park Ranger Charles Andrade locks up the renovated lodge at Flaming Geyser State Park in Auburn, which sits unused. The parks department renovated the lodge, hoping to turn it into a source of revenue as a wedding and event space, but problems with the electric, septic and water systems, have prevented it from opening, rendering their efforts and investment null.

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Lake Wenatchee State Park was hit with a massive storm just before Christmas in 2012 that caused hundreds of trees to go down under the weight of heavy snow, which also damaged playground equipment and structures in the park. With reduced staffing levels and budgets, it is proving difficult for the rangers to get the park cleaned up in time for the summer season. "Heads above water is what we're doing," said park manager Rick Halstead. They recently lost one full-time ranger position and reduced one to be a seasonal 8-month position, which barely allows them to do necessary maintenance, and doesn't allow time for larger repairs and renovations.

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Steve Ryder, park ranger at Tolmie State Park near Olympia, gets a broom out of the maintenance closet Sunday afternoon, March 17, 2013. Rangers, interpreters and park aides have a wide swath of responsibilities, including the upkeep of facilities that are often many years old. With staff reductions over the years, many facilities are only getting surface cleanings and not the structural renovations needed for them to remain solvent into the future.

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