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Flaming Geyser State Park near Black Diamond faces possible closing | Friends of Flaming Geyser group formed
The shrinking state bank account is hitting all aspects of the government including state parks, and Flaming Geyser State Park may be one of the causalities.
The 480-acre park on the Green River near Black Diamond could be facing locked gates depending on the outcome of the biennial budget that comes out of the state Legislature.
According to Eric Watilo, Northwest region director for Washington Parks, Flaming Geyser is not currently on a list of parks to be closed, but figuring out how to pay for parks in the state is a math problem all are trying to solve.
Watilo said Washington State Parks developed options for the state parks budget in August. One of the options included closing Flaming Geyser and about five other parks.
Watilo said plans and proposals changed the end of last year as the more serious problems with the state budget came into focus.
The governor’s staff asked parks officials to look at operating the state parks without any money from the general fund. This would mean chopping at least $41 million or losing about one-third of the parks biennial budget. The figure could balloon to more than $60 million once all the counting is complete.
“What the governor’s staff asked (us) was to tell them what it would look like if we went off the general fund,” Virginia Painter said, Parks spokeswoman. “We are involving everyone trying to figure how this can be practically done.”
Painter said one of the ideas is the “user pay only option.”
The problem facing Flaming Geyser is it does not generate revenue, which Watilo said is one of the issues the parks staff will be forced to consider.
Flaming Geyser is a day-use park without overnight camping and other revenue producing features.
“We will let the legislators do their work,” Watilo said. “Right now (neither) Flaming Geyser nor any other park is on a solid list (to close). Nothing is for sure yet until we hear from the Legislature.”
Watilo said some ideas the parks commissioners are considering are reinstating parking fees for state parks and increasing camping fees.
Watilo said the $5 optional parks fee that can be paid when paying for automobile licenses is not working well. He said the first month the program began was successful, but it has “gone down hill since.”
The estimate is the program needed to bring in $1.2 million each month, and Watilo said the amount needed was collected once.
Painter said there is always a concern about increase crime and vandalism when parks are closed.
“We look at how practical it is (to close the park) and what kind of problems will we have,” Painter said.
Black Diamond City Councilman Craig Goodwin with others began an advocacy group, Friends of Flaming Geyser, to find solutions to keep the park open.
Goodwin said, “We are going through the process with the state and working on alternatives including some local community involvement.”
If anyone is interested in joining the group contact Goodwin at email@example.com. There is also a Friends of Flaming Geyser Facebook page.