Dropping state park pass requirement for Fort Worden learning center has ups, downs
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Fort Worden employee Colleen Coulter-Jones, left, sells a Discover Pass to Rita Hemsley of Port Townsend. Those visiting the campus area of the park don’t need the pass, but the public development authority is obligated to generate $250,000 in sales per year. —Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The rescinding of the Discover Pass requirement for the campus portion of Fort Worden State Park is a mixed blessing, according to the campus’ new managers.

“The Discover Pass has been a challenge for us because we are doing something that sends a mixed signal,” Public Development Authority Executive Director Dave Robison told about 60 people at a Monday meeting of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

“While we don’t require the pass in the campus area, it’s important for the local community to step forward and purchase one,” he said.

“Not only does it support state Parks, it also supports Fort Worden.”

After May 1, the pass was no longer required for the campus — which includes spaces for Centrum, Peninsula College, Goddard College, the Port Townsend School of Woodworking and the Madrona Mind-Body institute — while recreational users of the park are still required to display the pass while in the park.

The agreement between State Parks and the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority, or PDA, includes an obligation to sell $250,000 worth of the passes per year.

If it fails to do so, the difference will come out of the PDA’s operating budget.

If they exceed the promised amount, which is based on previous annual sales numbers, the extra funds will go to the park and not be credited toward the following year’s obligation, Robison said.

The pass costs $30 — $35 if purchased at a license dealer or online — but Robison is encouraging locals to purchase at Fort Worden since it goes toward the yearly obligation.

Robison said the projected operating profit for the first year is $87,000, “which isn’t very much, so we don’t want to have to pay the difference.”

Since taking over the management on May 1, the PDA has worked to install a new reservation system, which will manage accommodations for both the campus portion and the campgrounds.

The PDA gets an $8 fee from each reservation.

It is also installing a high-speed wireless Internet system that will enhance operations for all the partners and provide free Internet access for all park visitors.

Robison said that accommodation spaces have already been renovated, completing the transition from rustic spaces to comfortable lodging options.

Future projects include renovation of the McCurdy Pavilion into a year-round performance space and the renovation of Building 202 as an educational hub for the two resident colleges.

“Our winter occupancy rate is 32 percent, and we’d really like to increase that,” Robison said.

“We are trying to determine our target audience and see what we can do to bring convention business back to the Fort and get people who were discouraged by the Discover Pass requirement to return.”

A free public welcome event is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. May 31 at the Fort, beginning with an open house where visitors can see all of the new facilities and meet the partners.

At 5 p.m. there will be a meal served, which will be followed by a parade.

The evening finishes with a 7 p.m. performance by the Nanda acrobatic troupe, which is a ticketed event in the McCurdy Pavilion.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 19. 2014 6:52PM
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