Your Oregon State Parks Questions Answered
Our 2017 Summer Survey to Oregon State Park visitors had over 9,000 responses!
We passed along all of the responses to the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department (OPRD). OPRD is the state agency that manages, staffs, and maintains the over 255 State Parks, Recreation Areas, Natural Areas, Scenic Viewpoints and Heritage Sites – as well as protecting and preserving the recreation, scenic, and natural resource values found on the Oregon’s ocean shore as directed by The Beach Bill!
We grouped together some of the common questions and comments and asked OPRD to shed some light on these topics. We know this doesn’t cover all of the comments from the survey – but we hope that it sheds some light on the most common questions.
Important introduction: Last year, Oregon State Parks attracted 2.7 million campers and 51.5 million day visitors. It consistently ranks in the nation’s top 10 State Park systems. The State Park system is not funded by taxes. Visitors, voter-mandated funding from the Oregon Lottery, and a share of recreational vehicle registrations fund the Oregon State Park system.
Topic #1 FEES AND DISCOUNTS
Question: Why aren’t there more discounts for different groups of users … and “off-season” rates?
Response from OPRD
Oregon State Park rates are historically low … for all visitors. We are more heavily reliant on revenue from visitors than most State Park systems in the US, and that strength has carried us through some rough times. The system is not yet perfectly sustainable, though, and whenever one of our three revenue sources — state lottery, RV registration, and visitors — dips or fails to keep up with inflation, it forces a decision about where to cut back. To keep serving people, we normally have to scale back new services and repairs, and neither choice is good in the long run. Offering a discount without a way to pay for it means we’d have to cut back some other service. Those trade-offs and a general sense of fairness have kept discounts for specific groups limited.
We did try a one-size-fits all off-season discount program for about 20 years and found it didn’t help us serve more people. Instead, we are designing a targeted discount program that will be driven by better thinking: where and when do we have capacity, specifically? Instead of a minor statewide discount, look for deeper savings at a more selective number of beautiful parks.
Question: Why are in-state and out-of-state fees and reservations the same?
Response from OPRD
Keep in mind that the Oregon State Park system are not supported by taxes.
Our one and only experiment with a nonresident surcharge didn’t go very well … we heard (loudly) from people visiting, local communities that rely on out-of-state tourism dollars, and Oregon families who loved reuniting with their relatives from all over the west, that the charge was a burden. The legislature intervened and directed us to remove the fee. Times have changed, but we’re still committed to treating people as equally as possible. Oregonian’s do the lion’s share of camping in their parks, followed by Washingtonians, then Californians. We do continue to look at better ways to serve everyone, and we start with questions like “What’s fair?” and “What’s our mission?” and “How do we make the system stronger and endure?”
Right now, we have no plans to set charges based on residence, but we never take any single idea off the table, and we do consider different charges based on residency every time we plan the revenue strategy. If it makes sense and helps the system serve better and answers these other questions, we might try it again.
Topic #2 RESERVATIONS
Question: There were many comments on having to make reservations so far in advance for some campsites/yurts/cabins.
Response from OPRD
There’s no getting around the fact the State Park system and the number of campsites hasn’t grown as fast as the Oregon population. We made changes to reservation rules a couple years ago to discourage customer habits (like booking more nights than needed) that made getting a reservation harder for the average person. We do review rules every year, but there are only a couple ways to truly address the fact there’s far more campsite demand than capacity: convince people to try underused parks or shift to less-congested times of the year, and build more capacity. We’re working on both, but more capacity takes considerable amounts of time, money, and careful planning to balance revenue and expenses. We’ll be working on ideas to market parks that have more space. As a visitor, you can get ahead of the curve by considering times and parks that are new to you. Go have an adventure!
Question: Why aren’t there more campsites that don’t require reservations and/or campsites that offer reservations?
There’s no magic formula for deciding how many parks to keep first-come, first-served versus making them available by reservation. Most sites in the system accept reservations for a practical reason: demand is high and people need to know they have a place to spend the night before they hit the road. Some smaller, less well-known parks are always first-come, first-served, and even parks that accept reservations always take first-come, first-served campers if the park has space.
Question: Why aren’t there more campsites?
Response from OPRD
It takes time, money, and planning to add campsites. We look at whether the land can actually support camping from a natural and cultural resource perspective, whether we can staff it, and if the park infrastructure — water, sewer, power — can handle it. To keep parks as natural as possible, we do our best to limit development to small pockets. We also have to check the park plan — a legal document adopted by local land use authorities — to see what’s permitted in the area. Doing development responsibly, and then setting aside the budget, going through design, and contracting for construction, takes years. The two-year state budget cycle makes it a little more challenging to make major investments, but we have projects working their way through this process now.
It’s important to remember as much as we adore the State Park system, there are other options. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department awards millions in grants to cities, counties, park districts and others to develop more camping capacity across the state. Whether it’s at a State Park or not, exploring Oregon is worth your time. Find someplace new to you and give it a try.
Topic #3 ACCESS AND STAFFING
Question: How important is access to Oregon State Parks? In other words, how important is it to you that Oregon state Parks are easily accessible to everyone regardless of income, transportation, or physical ability?
Response from OPRD
A majority of respondents (63%) marked that it is very important. There were over 1,000 comments to this question on topics ranging from ADA-related issues, campsites/campground size – to RV accommodations.
Regarding ADA compliance, OPRD responds that …
We are constantly reviewing and improving universal access to State Park facilities and programs. Nearly all campground parks have ADA sites (some small, primitive tent campgrounds don’t). We are striving on two levels: first, to make sure we’re fully compliant with state and federal law. Second, to go beyond the law and simply do the right thing to ensure as many people as possible have an opportunity to enjoy Oregon outdoor recreation and heritage. This last goal is more far-reaching, and doesn’t have a finish line. Even if we were fully funded and fully staffed, we’d always be able to find ways to improve access and be more welcoming. We have staff and an advisory committee working on this issue.
We at the Foundation are also committed to increased State Park access. Our Ticket2Ride program exemplifies this commitment and provides transportation for Title I K-8 students to State Parks for a day of learning about nature.
Special Topic: Rangers
There were numerous survey comments about our amazing Oregon State Park Rangers. Our Rangers take special care of our State Parks and deal with issues ranging from facility maintenance, rules enforcement, volunteer management, and interpretive/educations programs. They are the best!!
Even though the State Park System is not funded by taxes, the State Legislature regulates staffing levels. After five straight years of record-breaking attendance, and more than 10 years of flat staffing (no staffing increases), OPRD asked the legislature to approve 42 new field staff. They approved 21. The vast majority of these are front line Rangers who help care for Parks and serve visitors. OPRD hasn’t yet assigned these positions to specific Parks, but they are close to making those decisions. The positions are funded with a combination of revenue from visitors (fees), a share of the voter-mandated Oregon lottery funding, and a portion of recreation vehicle registration fees. We all are excited for this staffing increase which will help keep our State Parks at their finest!