Pass enforcement chills attendance at Fort Worden

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — Reports of increased enforcement of the Discover Pass at Fort Worden State Park have resulted in a chilling effect on attendance, though exemptions are available to visitors, said representatives of facilities and businesses in the park.

The concern will be bought up by Port Townsend School of Woodworking founder Tim Lawson today when he and Fort Worden State Parks Director Allison Alderman report to the state Parks and Recreation Commission at its meeting in Yakima.

The future of Fort Worden, parts of which will become a lifelong learning center managed by a public development authority, and specific pass options for the park — including temporary passes — are on the agenda of the state commission.

“We want to work actively with parks management to find a solution for everybody, where visitors can come in and have access to what they want,” Lawson said.

Both the Peninsula Daily News and the Port Townsend-Jefferson County Leader, a weekly newspaper, reported on the enforcement increase in May, which was noticeable by the park’s tenants.

“On the days that the articles appeared in the PDN and the Leader about enforcement, our summer ticket sales were down,” said Centrum Executive Director John MacElwee.

“The Discover Pass is not required for 2012 Centrum summer events because our reservations were made two years in advance, and we need to actively promote the message that a pass is not required this summer.”

In addition to Centrum’s loss of revenue, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center reported a 10 percent decrease in attendance from the same period last year, said Liesl Slabaugh, development director of the center.

Slabaugh said 456 people visited the facility for the first three weeks in May 2011, compared with 415 people this year.

The marine science center currently issues temporary parking permits that are available free of charge to visitors and are placed in the vehicle’s window.

Other partners, including the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, the Madrona Mind Body Institute and Goddard College, also distribute day passes to visitors and students.

The temporary passes originate from Alderman, who seeks to indicate the status of every vehicle in the park through a dashboard pass, making parking enforcement possible.

Alderman would prefer that every visitor buy a Discover Pass, allowing unlimited yearly access to every state park for a yearly $30 fee, but is willing to use the temporary passes.

“Every time you go to Seattle for a football game or a concert, you can pay $20 to $30 for parking,” Alderman said.

“With a Discover Pass, you can park the day you purchase it and in every other park for a year.”

Those with facilities within the park say they need to stay flexible because the rules may change when many of the initial exemptions given to Fort Worden expire July 1.

“Next summer might be a different story, but the partners at Ford Worden are trying to work out an alternative to the mandatory pass with [State] Parks,” MacElwee said.

“However, the partners actively encourage people to purchase the pass, which many of us sell.”

State Parks has tied sales of the Discover Pass to statewide park maintenance, saying that if projections aren’t met, park closures could result.

Alderman said enforcement is particularly difficult at Fort Worden because of the number of exemptions and that tagging each car will make enforcement possible.

“Every vehicle coming to the park should have paper on the dashboard telling the ranger whether it is exempt or not,” she said.

“If they don’t have this paper, then we will give them another kind of paper,” meaning a citation.

Any car parking in Fort Worden without either a Discover Pass or a parking day pass will receive a citation, Alderman said.

Motorists can take the citation to the park office the day of issue and purchase either a Discover Pass or a $10 day pass, and the ticket is forgiven, she said.

Motorists who ignore the summons will receive a $99 parking citation in the mail.

Since enforcement has increased, rangers have issued 85 notices that translated into either a yearly or daily pass and 36 tickets.

One agenda item at today’s state meeting is a brainstorming session about potential changes at the park and how to incorporate the Ford Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority as manager of the park’s proposed lifelong learning center.

The lifelong learning center, which has been planned for eight years, is a concept envisioned to provide space for a variety of recreational and educational opportunities.

The public development authority is to submit a business plan for managing this aspect of the state park to the State Parks and Recreation Commission by Sept. 1.

Today, marketing options and transportation — including the possibility of a shuttle service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — will be addressed in an open discussion.

According to the agenda, the discussion is “designed to generate ideas. . . . there is no good or bad. This is not the place to rant or disagree with an idea.”

Also on the agenda is a report from Larry Fairleigh, assistant parks director, that includes suggestions about how to improve the park.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 23. 2012 5:42PM
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