If you've tried to go to a state park in the last year you may have noticed many of them cut back hours, and some didn't even open. You may recall last year when Fishhook State Park, Charbonneau Park and Hood Park closed early due to federal cutbacks. These parks are overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers. Newstalk 870 reported last September the recreation season was cut by as much as 12 weeks due to budget shortfalls, depriving many families of a last getaway or two before fall.

The same issue has been facing Washington state parks. State officials say the park budget, used to maintain the 142 state parks, is down to $17 million. In 2003, it was $60 million. Wildlife officials say at those levels the state will not be able to maintain many of the areas to keep them open, or do necessary maintenance to make them attractive to visitors.

One legislator wants to change that. GOP Senator Kirk Pearson, chairman of the Washington Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee, has submitted a bill that will divert much needed funds to the state parks.

Senate Bill 5575 will take funding from the state litter tax, which goes into the Department of Ecology budget, and allow it to be used to help the state park system.  Pearson says all too often, that litter tax money doesn't get used by the Ecology Department, but instead gets diverted into the state's general fund to help balance the budget!

Pearson's bill would expire after four years, which he hopes is enough time to allow this much needed funding to be used to upgrade and maintain our state parks. Pearson and other supporters of the bill say having a clean, attractive and inviting number of recreational areas to visit would greatly increase tourism to our state and bring in much-needed dollars. It would also allow citizens of the state to enjoy more outdoor recreation.

Washington's park system will be celebrating it's 100th anniversary this year.