DNR reduces access, maintenance on its recreational lands


Associated Press
King 5 News

TACOMA - Outdoor enthusiasts can expect their treks through state campgrounds and forests to be a little more limited as funding cuts and recent bouts of vandalism force agencies to reduce access to public areas throughout Washington state.

People are increasingly being denied access to public lands, particularly the 3.2 million acres of forest and rangeland managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The agency also is reducing maintenance and services at some of its campsites and trails as part of an effort to counter cutbacks in state funding and to combat crime at its trailheads, officials said.

The agency also is reducing maintenance and services at some of its campsites and trails.
The new protective philosophy has been implemented by state Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who was elected in 2000 to lead the agency which manages state forests and other "trust" lands to earn money for schools and counties.

The former Tacoma mayor and Pierce County executive said recreation is important, but it has become increasingly expensive and budget cuts have made it less of a priority.

"It's a choice that is hard to make. But at the same time, I believe we have a greater responsibility to the trust to assure its proper care and maintenance," Sutherland said.

The agency, therefore, is more often reducing access if officials feel state land is "being overused or mismanaged or impairing our ability to provide return to the trust itself," Sutherland said.

Since last year, DNR has closed two campgrounds and temporarily closed or cut services at 23 more. Several campgrounds have either been swapped for other land, converted to day-use areas or are open only by special permit.

Nearly one-third of DNR's 150 recreation sites have suffered closures or cutbacks in the past two years, according to DNR figures.

Most recently, DNR closed the Middle Waddell, Mima Falls and Margaret McKenny campgrounds in Capitol State Forest near Olympia.

Stumps serve as a gate to block entrance to the areas and signs warn that the three campgrounds will stay closed until funding - about $12,000 - comes available.

"Everything seems to be closing down. If they close these, it's almost like you have to buy stuff at Leisure Time Resorts and places like that," said Amy Gleckler, a 27-year-old Olympia horse owner who has been camping at Margaret McKenny since she was a girl.

Others are more understanding.

"Doug's budget has gotten hammered," said Tory Briggs, president of the Northwest Motorcycle Association. "When he feels he has to close something, he involves the users. And we talk about it. We try to come up with something so that we all win."

DNR earned $232 million last year from timber sales, grazing leases and other arrangements, but state law requires the money go only to counties and schools.

Some DNR sites receive money from fuel taxes, particularly trails for motorcycles and off-road vehicles, but many sites rely on increasingly shrinking allotments from the state's general fund.

During the 1991-93 budget period, DNR spent $6.2 million for recreation. The Senate's budget proposal this session sets aside $450,000 in the state's general fund for DNR sites. The House and Gov. Gary Locke's plans offer nothing.

"There's a feeling those DNR sites are just vacant land and don't take money," said Olympia lobbyist Jim King, coordinator for Citizens for Parks and Recreation.

DNR officials estimate up to 35 percent of DNR facilities would close if no money is allotted.

"We have a crisis in recreation support in this state," said Bonnie Bunning, DNR's executive director for policy and administration. "There doesn't appear to be any easy solutions in hand."

In a plan to help keep public lands open for recreation, Sutherland has proposed a Legacy Trust, land that would be a mix of timber, commercial and agricultural.

The state would make money off the land, by harvesting or leasing it, and use that money to pay for recreation needs such as maintenance, law enforcement, volunteer programs and environmental quality programs.


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