Nearly 50 university students spent Saturday cleaning up Olmstead Place State Park east of Ellensburg. But their efforts don’t change the fact that the park is deteriorating and the state doesn’t have the money to preserve it.
The historic farm can use all the help it can get. It’s sole employee, Maurya Broadsword, does everything from giving tours to weeding to cleaning the restrooms.
Volunteers help lighten the park staff’s work load, but they can’t make up for the drastic cuts to the system’s budget, which has lost more than 80 percent of the money it receives from the state general fund since 2007.
Park advocates hope to avoid even more funding cuts this year, but that depends on budget negotiations in Olympia. Budget proposals from the state House and the governor’s office offer slight increases, but the Senate’s proposal cuts funding even further.
State parks are still reeling from budget cuts in recent years. Since 2000, Washington has closed a dozen parks and since 2009, it has cut its full-time workforce from 595 to 395. Last year, it turned one-third of its 189 full-time park rangers into seasonal employees.
New user fees created by the Legislature when it cut most direct state funding in 2011 has only brought in about half the projected revenue, said Virginia Painter, spokeswoman for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
Before then, parks didn’t charge an entrance fee. Now, users must buy either a $10 daily parking pass or a $30-a-year Discover Pass.
The combination of cuts to staffing, maintenance and programming, and the introduction of user fees only makes the situation worse, Painter said.
That doesn’t bode well for Olmstead Place State Park and many of Washington’s 117 parks and roughly 700 historic buildings.
“It (Olmstead Place) is in a state of deterioration. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be restored, but there’s no funding available,” said Broadsword, the park’s interpretive specialist.
The park is one of Central Washington’s first farms and includes a log cabin built by Samuel Olmstead and his family when they arrived in 1875.
“If you’re going to teach people what it took to be a pioneer farmer, you have to have something tangible,” she said. “These historic places give people a bit of reality, and once these places are gone, they’re gone forever.”
It’s that sentiment that spurred Lana Abuhudra, who helped organize the 48 Central Washington University students involved in Saturday’s volunteer cleanup. The group painted posts, weeded the vegetable and flower gardens, cleaned the chicken coop and the historic family cabin.
“It’s part of your history. It’s part of your identity,” said Abuhudra, a Utah native.
As an outsider, she said, the historical site gives her perspective on where the Kittitas Valley community has been and where it is going.
But volunteers can only do so much.
Their skill levels and availability often limit them to straightforward tasks like cleaning up and basic office jobs. Plus, organizing them requires planning and oversight from staff members, Painter said.
Volunteer participation has decreased to about 275,000 work hours since hitting a high-water mark of 350,000 hours in the middle of last decade, she said.
• Dan Catchpole can be reached at 509-759-7850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.