2.7 million visited Deception Pass Park in 2014

Haylee Fortinberry shows off a treasure at Deception Pass State Park. The park is the busiest in the state and had a great year in 2014.

The magic of Deception Pass State Park was on display on a sunny late afternoon last week and was rubbing off on 4-year-old Haylee Fortinberry.

It didn’t seem too cold to comb the beach for treasures. Nor did it seem too cold for a young child to entertain other ideas.

“Tomorrow, I’m going to swim,” she told her aunt and grandmother.

Another picturesque afternoon so late in the year seemed a fitting backdrop to how 2014 is shaping up at Deception Pass State Park.

Park manager Jack Hartt called 2014 possibly the most profitable in park history and said that 2.7 million guests so far this year cements Deception Pass’ status again as Washington’s most visited state park.

“This is a very busy park,” Hartt said.

Hartt gave his State of the Park presentation during an open house hosted by the Deception Pass Park Foundation at the nearby Walla Walla University Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory Dec. 3.

The annual address provided financial status, trends and park project updates as well as highlights from the year.

The night also featured talks by members of the Deception Pass Park Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises money to support educational and interpretive programs in the park as well as helps complete restoration projects.

They also gave updates about projects and shared their redefined mission to focus more on education opportunities at the park in the future.

“We’re hoping to be more education-oriented,” said Liz Merriman, president of the foundation’s seven-member board, “and we need volunteers to help us.”

Hartt called 2014 “a very good year” with the park generating about $2 million in revenue for a net profit of about $700,000.

He said the revenue total might be the best ever at the park for a single year, pointing to campsite fees as the major driver with about 125,000 campers in 2014.

The warm weather this summer was likely the underlying cause, he said.

“I can only say this is the best in my 11 years,” said Hartt, adding that 70 campsites have been added since he came to the park. “I am confident it is the best ever, but I cannot say that for certainty as I have not seen previous years’ data. However, because of the Discover Pass and increased campsite fees and increased campsites available, I would be surprised if this has ever been surpassed.”

The financial success at Deception Pass trickles down to help support the entire state parks system.

The park’s costs, including salaries for 10 full-time staff members, a dozen seasonal employees, utilities, repairs and more, amounted to about $1.3 million.

Hartt said about $65,000 went to pay the “garbage bill” alone.

The park’s 2.7 million visitors in 2014 is a steep increase compared to 1.5 million guests in 2010, a year before the Discover Pass user fee was implemented.

Although Deception Pass State Park’s popularity has risen, its full-time staff is down from 16 in 2008.

“Two-point-seven million people like us, care about this place and are really glad it’s here,” Hartt said. “There is no way our budget or our staff can take care of it, but I know together we can.”

Hartt pointed to several improvements inside the park including shoreline restoration at Cornet Bay, building repairs and new interpretive signage.

The Deception Pass Park Foundation played a role in many improvements and is seeking more volunteers to continue its supporting role.

Brian Shelly, a foundation board member, gave an update on the amphitheater project, saying that building a stage is the next phase and the goal is for it to be finished by the summer of 2016.

The park also wants to offer more events during non-summer months to draw visitors. Hartt said an event happened almost every weekend at the park during the summer, including free outdoor concerts.

The foundation’s new mission statement points to “protection through education” and is moving away from structural restorations.

The future vision is to create what Merriman called the “Deception Pass Institute,” turning the park into more of a place of learning.

 

To learn more about the Deception Pass Park Foundation or inquire about volunteering, go to the website at

www.deceptionpassfoundation.org.