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Wanting to get outside: Discover Pass purchases, state parks reservations rise

by CASEY MCCARTHY
Staff Writer | March 8, 2021 1:00 AM

People want to get outdoors. Sales of Discover Passes are up since June and so are reservations at state parks, according to data from Washington State Parks.

Discover Pass sales dropped in March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, then shot up in June.

The Discover Pass program, started in 2012, gives people access to any of the lands and facilities operated by Washington State Parks, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Discover Pass revenue in June was about $4.5 million. In the three years prior, Discover Pass sales in June ranged from $3 million to $3.5 million, according to data from Washington State Parks, DNR and WDFW.

State parks reservation bookings were lower from February 2020 to January 2021 than in recent years, but only because of a massive drop in April and May 2020, according to data from the state parks. Every month since, reservations have been significantly higher.

Anna Gill, communications director for Washington State Parks, said she expects people will still be cautious and the state parks offer great ways to recreate safely.

“A lot of the traditional tourism activities are still a big question mark,” Gill said. “We expect to continue to see an increase in users over the spring and summer of 2021.”

Gill said she hopes people who spent more time “rediscovering” the state parks during the past year will become repeat visitors. She said Washington parks rely heavily on earned revenue, so increased traffic will help the state agency reach its goals.

“It’s just going to allow us to do our job and meet our mission better,” Gill said. “The more people that come, the more resources we have to make improvements and ultimately circle back to that mission and serve our state the best we can.”

While visits have been up across the board, Gill said some parks have been hit harder than others since March. Some parks in Central Washington were so busy park staff had to cap the number of visitors when the parking lot filled up.

She said cars were parked out on county roads at times, creating safety concerns on top of the social distancing worries.

With increased visitation, Gill said some parks showed their wear and age a bit.

This summer, she said the state parks agency is fortunate to be able to invest in hiring more seasonal help and park aides to accommodate the increased traffic.

The past 12 months were unprecedented for Washington State Parks, including shutting down the entire park system in the spring for the first time ever. Gill said the parks staff had to figure out how to handle the changes and how to reopen the parks in summer.

“We hope that we can do a really good job of showing the value of the pass to people that are maybe new to purchasing the Discover Pass,” Gill said.

Casey McCarthy can be reached via email at cmccarthy@columbiabasinherald.com.

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Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Left to right, Dana Ertel and John Brodeur get their canoes into the waterway on Wednesday afternoon as they get set to snake their way toward Potholes State Park.

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Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Left to right, Dana Ertel and John Brodeur drop their canoes in the water deep inside the Potholes Wildlife Area with hopes of coming out near Potholes State Park on Wednesday afternoon.

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Courtesy Photo/Anna Gill

Data set courtesy of Washington State Parks, Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.