Interview With Rex Derr

From the interview with Rex Derr conducted by Wendy Los by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on December 28, 2004. Mr. Derr was the Director of Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. He retired  from his post on November 30, 2010. Here he discusses the challenges he faced in his job in 2004:

“One of the things that we have seen with the State Park system over the last 20 years is a change in policy makers’ perceptions about the role of parks in government. Because, with growing populations, growing economies in states all across the nation (we’re not alone) the pressures to provide basic infrastructure for the economy and for social services have demanded more and more of public tax dollars. So park systems have been pushed to the side or pushed to the back of the line when public monies are distributed. What we’ve been trying to do is figure out how to make sure that park systems survive from one decade to the next as a service that citizens have said they’ve wanted but policy makers are having more and more difficulty providing, because of the competition for tax dollars. I guess for the last 20 years the resources—the public dollars—that we’ve had available to keep the park system together have constantly not declined, but have been constricted. We’ve had a couple of rough decades. What I’m committed to and I believe charged to do by my Parks Commission and the Legislature is to see if there’s not a different way to finance and operate and sustain the State Park System, which is now 92 years old. We know that we’re one of the largest, one of the most developed, one of the heaviest used five or six state park systems in the nation. We know the citizens love them. They want them, but keeping them open and safe and healthy is the extreme challenge for any administrator of a park system. Every park system, every state park system in the country, has been facing the same dilemma for the past 20 years. A couple of small park systems in New England have found some answers. They don’t depend on general tax dollars, they have a business deal to lease land to ski areas and leak the revenue from those leases to support their park systems. In Missouri, the voters stepped up and passed a dedicated tax that said conservation in parks is important to us, we want a certain percentage of all sales taxes to go to the State Parks.”

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