Ad revenue likely to start flowing to state parks

OLYMPIA — Operators of Washington’s cash-strapped parks system are getting closer to tapping a source of revenue that’s been off-limits since the establishment of the state.

The state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill this week to lift the ban on the sale of commercial advertising in the state’s 117 developed parks.

Lawmakers promised it won’t mean visitors encounter flashy signs on a hiking trail or see their favorite park renamed after a mega-corporation like Boeing or Microsoft.

But it will allow the sale of ads on the agency’s website and increased use of partnerships with private firms to cover day-to-day costs of running the parks system.

Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, prime sponsor of Senate Bill 6034, said lawmakers want a financially independent parks system and this bill provides tools for the state Parks and Recreation Commission to do so.

“Truth is, we do need a new funding source. This will help,” said Pearson, who is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee. “Does this mean we will have big neon signs? No.”

It passed the Senate on 45-3 vote on Feb. 12. It will be heard by the House Committee on the Environment Feb. 19.

Under the bill, the agency could start selling a limited number of ads on its website and in its printed materials later this year.

It also encourages signing agreements with outside groups such as tribes, other public agencies and private entities for the management of parks and facilities, if doing so “results in net benefits to the state.”

And it would make it easier for donations to the nonprofit State Parks Foundation to be spent directly on day-to-day operations and maintenance rather than be funneled through the agency.

While this bill is cast as a small revenue-generating step, it is one of the most significant strides toward commercialization and privatization in the system’s 100-year history.

That’s why Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, opposed it during Wednesday’s floor debate.

“I recognize we need money to keep our parks operating,” she said. “For us to now allow advertising and commercialization as the only means of funding our parks tells me we have to go back to the drawing board.”

She’s not the only one concerned the bill could enable corporate sponsors to one day pay to get their name on a park or install a neon billboard promoting their product.

Supporters of the bill said there are restrictions on what types of advertising will be allowed and where they can appear.

Also, the state Parks and Recreation Commission adopted guidelines last month that follow rules used by the federal government in deciding what is allowable on building and in federal parks.

Parks commissioner Pat Lantz said the panel never considered selling naming rights but she’s been pleased by the brouhaha stirred by worry of such prospects.

“It’s an affirmation to us that we are stewards of assets that are important to the public,” she said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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