The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) will face months, even years, of critical challenges due to the economic fallout from COVID-19. The agency does not receive state General Fund tax dollars to operate any service, including its popular, heavily visited state park system. A decline in its main revenue sources – Lottery Fund and park visitors – has left it offering reduced services and facing layoffs to fill an estimated $22 million dollar gap in its July 2019-June 2021 budget.
OPRD’s budget is 44% Lottery Fund dedicated by Oregon voters in 1999 and 2010; 50% “Other Fund” from park visitors, a portion of recreational vehicle registrations, and other sources; and 6% Federal Fund, mainly for heritage-related programs. The projected Lottery Fund allocation is down 30% from pre-coronavirus estimates. The state park system was closed for two months, and is just now starting to offer limited services to campers.
When it became clear in spring that revenues were going to be unstable, OPRD froze hiring, curtailed discretionary spending, and suspended large improvement and repair projects and other programs such as grants. The current estimated $22 million gap could grow or shrink, but it has necessitated the decision to lay off 47 positions by June 30. The number of positions laid off could change. State park field operations have borne the lion’s share of the workforce reduction already. Most of the state park workforce is hired seasonally, and of the 415 positions allotted to operate parks, only 77 had been hired by the time the system closed in March. Some seasonal staff may be hired on a case-by-case basis to flesh out the current skeleton crew. The upcoming reductions will focus on other areas of the department.
Some state park camping has started at smaller parks, and more will begin June 9. Typical services such as trash collection, restrooms, and showers are limited, both due to their expense and the limited staffing. Fewer staff and funds are available for landscape maintenance and cleanup, a point driven home by storm damage in central Oregon this past weekend.
Given the uncertainties of staffing and public health considerations reservation services will resume, but in a likewise limited manner. Reservations will be accepted online at https://oregonstateparks.reserveamerica.com/ and by phone at 800-452-5687, beginning Wednesday, June 3 at noon Pacific time. New reservations will be accepted one day to two weeks in advance only, instead of one day to 9 months in advance, which had been in place for years. Not all sites at all parks are available, and many were already reserved before the system closed. No walk-in or first-come, first-served camping will be available on the coast until further notice. For more information on camping reservations, visit https://stateparks.oregon.gov
Visitors can help by treating park properties gently, using as little water and power as necessary, and packing out trash.
“This is a heartbreaking time for our agency family, both for those who face a heavy workload as we roll into summer and for the dedicated professionals we have to release from service,” says Lisa Sumption, OPRD Director. “We’ll do everything we can to help them land on their feet. With support from Oregonians, the agency will rise to this challenge and adapt.”
Source: Oregon State Parks