As the new year unfolds, there will be plenty to celebrate, enjoy and watch when it comes to the outdoors. Some of the news is good, and some of it is troublesome. Here is our look at some of the stories we feel will be among the most important and discussed in 2013:
STATE PARKS CENTENNIAL
As Washington State Parks celebrates its 100th birthday in 2013, it finds itself at a crossroads.
It’s operating budget has been slashed, it’s Discover Pass program has generated less revenue than hoped, and it’s counting on the state legislature to allocate more funding.
“We’re a little on the edge,” said Virginia Painter, state parks public affairs director. “We’ve even had some people ask if we are still going to have a centennial.
“Of course we are. We are still turning 100. That only happens once. We will be celebrating at parks all over the state.”
The state parks’ birthday is March 19 and Painter says there are numerous events planned statewide all year. A list of events can be found at parks.wa.gov/events.
In 2003, the agency launched a 10-year campaign to ready the state parks for the centennial, but when the economy collapsed in ’08 so did the plans.
The parks set 11 goals ranging from establishing land-use plans for 93 parks to doubling volunteer hours, but Painter says the parks will fall short of reaching all of the goals.
“We were doing very well before 2008 and then we were forced to revisit our goals,” she said.
With less money coming from the state budget the parks are relying on the Discover Pass, a new visitor fee that began in 2011.
Painter says the pass program is not a failure even though it is bringing in only about half of the $50 million per year originally projected.
The parks are asking for $27.2 million from the state budget, but Painter says the parks might also lose all general fund support.
“It’s not lost on us that we are on the edge but at the same time we are celebrating our centennial,” Painter said. “It’s a challenging time but there really is still a lot to celebrate.”
SILVER FIR LODGE
In November, as construction crews were buttoning up their work at the Summit at Snoqualmie for the winter, Guy Lawrence offered an assessment of what the coming upgrade would look like.
“It’s really a lot of nonsexy stuff for this season (2012-13),” the ski area’s marketing director said referring to the brush that was cleared last summer.
But he was quick to add that 2013 will bring an exciting addition to the ski area. Over the summer, the Summit plans to finish a new lodge at Summit Central. The Silver Fir Lodge will be at the base of the Silver Fir Express where it can be easily reached by Summit Central and Summit East skiers.
In 2012, workers completed earthwork and poured the foundation. Lawrence says construction will be complete in time for the 2013-14 season.
“It will be a cool little lodge,” Lawrence said mentioning the cafe and bar. “We are trying to go a little upscale. We want to take it up a notch or two.”
The 10,000-square-foot lodge will have retail and rental space downstairs, while the upstairs dining area will offer views of the slopes.
The lodge is expected to bring much-needed extra space to Washington’s most-visited ski area.
PINK SALMON FISHING
If it’s an odd-numbered year, it means the pink salmon will be coming back to Puget Sound. While the 2013 run forecast won’t be finalized until early April, early indications are anglers can expect to see numbers similar to 2011.
The 2011 run was forecast at 5.98 million pinks, and the run turned out to be 5.27 million fish.
The smallest of the five Pacific salmon species, pink salmon return to Washington waters only during odd-numbered years.
If this year’s run is close to 2011’s, it will be above the average run of 4.45 million since 2001, but well under the 2009 run of more than 9.8 million pinks.
This is good news for South Sound anglers because so many of the pinks are headed for rivers within a short drive. Among the rivers with big pink salmon returns in 2011 were the Green and Puyallup. That also makes places like Dash Point and Browns Point popular fishing spots when the pinks are making their way to the rivers.
If you want to give fishing for pinks a try, be sure to get your fishing license (wdfw.wa.gov/licensing) and head to a local tackle shop to buy some pink-colored lures or flies. The run typically reaches its peak in August.
While the federal government managed to avoid the fiscal cliff, that doesn’t mean your favorite park is out of danger. Parks, from federal to local jurisdictions, all face tightened budgets.
Among those most in trouble are Washington’s state parks. Major cuts in general fund support plus lower-than-expected revenues from Discover Pass sales have left State Parks and Recreation in a quandary.
In the 2007-09 budget, the general fund contributed $94.3 million to the State Parks budget. That has been slashed to $17.2 million in the current two-year budget.
Adding to the pressure is the Legislature’s request that the agency be weaned off state support by July.
Elsewhere, Metro Parks Tacoma is facing a $7 million shortfall in its budget for the next two years. Units of the National Park Service are developing contingency plans for cuts that range from 2 percent to 8 percent annually.
It all means parks have been closed, programs eliminated for lack of staff, maintenance projects delayed and new park development halted. That is a detriment to the millions of people who each year visit the parks, such as Olympic National Park, Federation Forest State Park, Burfoot Park near Boston Harbor and Browns Point Lighthouse Park.
As the 2013 legislative process begins to unfold, park supporters will be keeping a wary eye on the numbers. Some fear it will get worse before it gets better.
CAMP MUIR COMMODES
Camp Muir on the southern flank of Mount Rainier has remarkable views and is almost always a welcome site for mountaineers. But the historic 1.1-acre camp 10,188 feet above sea level also is home to a rather unpleasant smell.
The busiest location on the upper mountain is visited by about two-thirds of the 9,000-11,000 climbers who attempt the summit each year. It has four toilets and a recent environmental assessment said they “do not process waste efficiently.”
Chuck Young, the park’s chief ranger, hopes the park will replace at least one of the toilets in 2013. Designs for the new toilets were presented to the park in mid-December.
The hope is that the new toilets will process waste, eliminate Muir’s notorious aroma and save the park money.
Currently the park uses a helicopter to fly about two tons of human waste off the mountain each year.
Replacing the toilets is part of a planned overhaul of Camp Muir that would include moving the toilets to either end of the camp so they’re not prominent features on the ridgeline.
The park hopes to eventually replace nonhistoric structures with buildings that match the style of the historic structures. In August, park superintendant Randy King estimated the project would cost about $700,000 and would be funded primarily by franchise fees paid by concession companies, including the guide services.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640