By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Visitors to the park now must display passes in vehicles, although businesses and other nonprofits at the park will have the option of buying passes to lend to their customers and clients, State Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter said.
A $30 annual fee to enter any of the 117 state parks was established in July 2011 to generate revenue for the cash-strapped agency.
But an exemption was applied to parking for events at Fort Worden because many that were held at the 434-acre facility had been scheduled before July 2011, Painter said.
The exemption was applied in two stages.
“The first exemption was kind of common sense,” she said.
“This was only at Fort Worden.”
The exemption then was extended to Dec. 31 so State Parks could negotiate a co-management agreement with the Port Townsend-based Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority.
The cooperative management plan that the state Parks and Recreation Commission approved with the Public Development Authority on Dec. 6 set the stage for the state to negotiate new leases with Centrum and other Fort Worden facilities, Painter said, adding that those leases should be completed by March.
“When we negotiate the building lease, we also will be negotiating parking as part of that,” Painter said.
“If a business has customers coming in, the lease of that business partner will include parking.
“They will have designated parking as part of that lease agreement,” Painter said, adding that businesses at Fort Worden lost money after the Discover Pass was established.
“The intention is to fold the parking piece in, so the state is getting revenue that would have come from the Discover Pass, ostensibly, but is getting revenue from the leaseholder as part of that arrangement,” she said.
“Whether the entity passes the fee along in a conference fee or covers it in their lease agreement, that will be up to them and probably will be on a case-by-case basis.”
Visitors must display the pass on their vehicles to park at Fort Worden — or face fines.
The fines, adjudicated in district court, are $99 for parking without the pass at state parks and state recreation areas, with the penalty is knocked down to $59 if the person buys the annual pass within 15 days of receiving the citation, Painter said.
The pass is required on motor vehicles accessing state parks and other state-managed recreation lands.
Fort Worden is different because of the vigorous mixture of for-profit and nonprofit facilities that draw people to the park for more than the Victorian houses, catacomb-like abandoned military bunkers, and two miles of saltwater shoreline along Admiralty Inlet.
The fort’s campus also is a National Historic Landmark of the National Park Service.
Facilities include the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, Copper Canyon Press and Centrum, the arts and entertainment facility that had booked events before the fee was established.
The intention of the Discover Pass was to shift responsibility for funding State Parks’ operating budget away from the state general fund to park users.
When the recession hit, state general fund revenues routed to State Parks dropped from 70 percent of the agency’s biennial budget in 2007-2009 to 12 percent in 2011-2013.
The plan was to make State Parks self-supporting by the 2013-2015 biennium, Painter said.
“The revenue has not come through as projected,” she said.
“Whenever you raise a rate or impose a new fee, you get something called fee resistance.”
Park managers have said visitation has decreased, but Painter said more precise totals were not available for the period from when the fee began in July 2011 through 2012.
Now, commission members “believe absolutely” that general fund money is needed for 2013-2015, Painter said.
State Parks intends to ask for $27.2 million for the upcoming biennium, she added.
“The reality is, the [state Parks and Recreation] commission looked at where we are and how we benefit the state.”
The original PDA proposal was that agency take over all or part of the management of Fort Worden State Park and develop it into an academic campus, called a lifelong learning center, that offers a series of educational and recreational options.
The co-management agreement plan is that the PDA will manage the campus area, which is about one-fourth of the 434-acre park and which contains most of the buildings, while State Parks continues management of the campgrounds, Chinese gardens, trails, lighthouse and shoreline.
Specifics are to be developed during this year, and the plan will take effect the first of 2014.
Dave Robison, executive director of the public development authority, told the Port Townsend City Council recently that one aspect of the proposed co-management plan is that visitors to buildings managed by the PDA would be exempt from the state requirement for Discover Passes while those going to areas of Fort Worden managed by the state would need them.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.