LINCOLN CITY, Ore. - At first glance, Road's End Wayside Rest Area here is simply a big asphalt parking lot, complete with a bathroom and stairs winding downhill.
But the stairs lead to a huge, sandy
beach, making it one of more than 60 public access points on the
Oregon coast. Public beach access has been one of Oregon's biggest
selling points since the 1960s, when the late environmental pioneer
Tom McCall pushed it through as governor.
this access point, 20 others and more than 60 state parks overall
are in danger of closing. That's because a state parks system that
has drawn fan mail from all over the country can't win the
financial support of Oregon's voters and
In late June, the State Parks and
Recreation Commission voted to close these parks after Labor Day to
wipe out a $3.5 million deficit. Another 40 out of a total of 220
state parks could close in a year. Many of the parks could be sold
off for private development. Others would be fenced
The crisis comes even though Oregon has one
of the country's most popular state park systems. State officials
say the parks draw 40 million visitors a year, ranking fifth
nationwide, and generate $500 million annually for the economies of
surrounding cities and towns.
The parks help give
Oregon its green image. State parks include beach campgrounds, open
riverbanks, pine, spruce, hemlock or cedar forests, basalt cliffs,
ornamental gardens, rock climber havens and ordinary picnic
"I was born and raised in Oregon, and my
children were born and raised here," said Brady Adams, a Republican
who serves as state Senate majority leader. "Many of those parks on
the list for closure have personal family memories for me."
Why, then, are the parks in trouble? Largely
it's because Oregon voters have been in a conservative mood since
1980, when they started passing measures that took revenue
generated by a gasoline tax from the parks, limited officials'
ability to increase property taxes and required the spending of
large amounts of money on new prisons.
votes have squeezed the parks' budget. Officials have had to raise
fees to among the country's highest for state parks: $16 for a tent
camping site and up to $22 for an RV hookup. As a result,
visitation has dropped slightly in recent years, making the money
Now, state legislators have asked
parks officials to hold off closing parks until November, when they
hope to find more money. Parks commissioners say they're torn,
because keeping the parks open now would put them deeper in the
financial hole in November if more money doesn't
The commission will consider the issue
again in August, and parks department director Bob Meinen won't say
if he'll recommend keeping the parks open or closing them. "I want
to reflect on it," he says.
To comment on the
park closures, write the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department at
1115 Commercial St. NE, Salem, OR 97310-1001.
The writer works
for the Statesman-Journal in Salem,