Layoffs, few seasonal workers at Oregon State Parks

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s state parks have started to reopen, but the agency that manages them is is facing an estimated $22 million budget shortfall between now and next June amid the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department said Tuesday it will lay off 47 full-time employees by June 30. That’s in addition to the 338 seasonal staff that will not be rehired this year, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Only 77 of 415 seasonal positions have been filled for 2020.

Unlike other state agencies, the parks department is not funded by tax dollars but by Oregon Lottery funds, camping and parking fees, and RV registration fees.

Oregon state parks closed to the public in late March, just before Gov. Kate Brown announced a stay-home order that closed most businesses across the state. Lottery funds subsequently shrunk, while park fees were zero.

“It’s a gut punch, we’ve never been through anything like this before,” parks spokesman Chris Havel said.

The layoffs will translate to reduced services at day-use sites and campgrounds across the state, including trash collection, restroom cleaning and maintenance.

Starting in May, day-use park sites began to reopen with limited services across the state. On June 9, several popular campgrounds will also reopen, with online reservations starting Wednesday at noon. That will provide some revenue, but it’s not expected to be enough.

Havel said visitors can help by packing out trash and bringing their own water, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Oregon’s parks haven’t been in such trouble since the early 1990s, when the parks department was cut off from the Oregon Department of Transportation and left to fend for itself. Officials faced the closure of some 60 state parks before voters approved parks funding through the Oregon Lottery.

“This is a heartbreaking time for our agency family, both for those who face a heavy workload as we roll into summer and for the dedicated professionals we have to release from service,” Lisa Sumption, state parks director, said in a news release Tuesday. “We’ll do everything we can to help them land on their feet. With support from Oregonians, the agency will rise to this challenge and adapt.”

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