Challenges ahead for Flaming Geyser and other state parks

The future of Flaming Geyser State Park was discussed during a legislative tour of the park July 31.

State Sen. Pam Roach and Rep. Zack Hudgins attended the event. Daniel Farber from the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, Ranger Jeff Vassallo and Larry Fairleigh, assistant director with State Parks led the tour.

Located south of Black Diamond on Green Valley Road, the 520-acre park was purchased by the state in the late 1960s, Vassallo said.

Farber and Vassallo pointed out the park has fallen on tough times due to budget cuts to all state parks since the recession of 2008.

Fairleigh said prior to the recession the state parks were “two-thirds tax supported and now it is essentially a public enterprise…. We can’t maintain parks by just writing a check anymore.”

State parks officials are trying to expand recruitment of volunteers, according to Fairleigh, but there are issues with providing staff to oversee volunteer programs.

Vassalo and Farber outlined some of the specific problems with Flaming Geyser and the plan to bring the park up to desired standards.

Vassallo said the electrical system failed in 2010 and an estimate from Puget Sound Energy to make the system meet today’s standards came in at more than $500,000.

There are also problems with the outdated sewer system and water and the lodge currently has neither water or bathrooms.

A concept plan for improving the park was discussed during the tour, which includes electrical, sewer and water improvements. The proposal calls for a tram or transit vehicle to transport park visitors during peak-use periods.

Current projects in the works are a water-treatment system and construction of a picnic shelter.

Roach said it is important for the area residents and those directly affected by the park improvements be involved in the progress and planning of the projects.

“We have to realize there are 6,000 homes going in Black Diamond,” Roach said. “I am asking for a larger community discussion (regarding the park plan.)”

Roach said the park will be a “huge draw” and an increase in traffic would affect Green Valley Road.

“We  have to consider what we are doing to this road,” Roach said. “I love this park and 95 percent (of the concept plan) I am very much in favor.”

Farber said there are no plans to increase the parking spots for the park and the plan went through the SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) process with public meetings.

Farber described the plan as an improvements and upgrades, “not an expansion.”

Hudgins said the state parks no longer receives revenue from the state general fund.

“The bright light for parks is it is the one thing in the legislature that both sides work on to find a common solution,” Hudgins said.  “No general fund (revenue) is a huge shift for parks. All revenue will be from the Discover Card and internal fees.”

According to the parks website, the Discover Pass is a “vehicle-access pass” allowing access to Washington state-managed recreation lands.

An annual pass costs $35 and a one-time pass is $11.50.

According to an executive summary document from state parks, more than $17 million in general fund revenue and $4 million in Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account will go away in 2013. The gap is to be filled by Discover Pass revenue and other fees.