Parks in Tacoma struggle to fully reopen due to 'millions' in lost revenue amid COVID-19

TACOMA, Wash. -- While more than 100 Washington State Parks will reopen on May 5, parks in Tacoma are struggling with staffing and the resources needed to fully reopen.

Metro Parks Tacoma is an independent park district which owns and operates several parks and facilities in Tacoma. Spokesperson Hunter George said parks are open, however, several amenities like parking lots, restrooms and playgrounds will still be closed. He explained the group does not have the money, staffing or resources to reopen everything due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a big impact that it’s had on us. And so, we’re going to ask the public to be patient with us because it’s going to take us some time to come out of this,” said George.

George said despite the reopening, finding the money to maintain their parks and facilities will be a challenge. He said the group lost millions of dollars in revenue ever since the state called on the closure of parks to reduce coronavirus exposure.

“As a result, we’ve had to lay off or furlough over 600 people, which is three quarters of our staff. So, we’re not in a position, we’re not staffed to reopen right away,” said George.

Along with several parks, George said they manage a golf course and marina on the Puget Sound. Those will not reopen under Governor Jay Inslee's revised outdoor recreation order. George said right now they can’t afford the staff and resources to reopen those facilities.

“Also, a lot of physical changes need to be made to accommodate employee safety and the public safety when coming to our facilities. We’ve got folks working really hard and really fast to try to figure those things out,” said George.

On May 5th, 121 Washington State Parks will reopen for day-use only. Officials said 32 state parks will remain closed until further notice. Those closures include all parks on the Pacific Coast and the Columbia River Gorge. Washington State Parks provided a full list of open and closed parks on its website.

George said staff at Metro Parks Tacoma don’t know when park amenities and facilities will fully reopen again. Right now, the focus is just trying to bounce back from the drastic damage the pandemic caused. Until then, George said those who do visit parks in Tacoma are highly encouraged to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

“This summer is going to be like no summer we’ve ever had. This is going to be completely different, it’s going to be limited operations. And so, we’re going to have to make some hard choices,” said George.

The 22 percent of staff remaining on Metro Parks Tacoma have created a recovery focus group. They’re taking a closer look at how to find funding, how they will bring back staff and will also ask for community input. This will help the group determine feasible ways to safely reopen amenities for visitors to enjoy.

George said community support has been “phenomenal,” as more people visit their parks to get out of the house and relieve stress from the coronavirus outbreak.

“I feel like it’s essential for our community. And we’re Washingtonians and we want to be outside,” said
Gretchen Currie, a park visitor.