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Advertising Coming To Washington State Parks

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Washington State Parks
Some examples of forms of advertising that Washington State Parks intends to market at selected parks beginning this summer.

"Limited" commercial advertising is coming to Washington State Parks. The state park system will begin placing ads in parks as early as this summer to make itself more self-sustaining.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission voted 5-1 last week to approve guidelines for accepting advertising. Creative Services Manager Sandy Mealing said the agency does not intend to "commercialize" the parks though.

"You're not going to see large billboards. You're not going to see parks renamed,” Mealing said.

What you can expect are advertising posters in kiosks, racks with brochures, or directories.

"We've got several parks that have roofed accommodations like our cabins, vacation houses and yurts,” Mealing said. “Another option could be like what you see at hotels where they have basically a book or directory of local businesses and what they offer."

Mealing said the parks administration does not expect this level of advertising to be a big moneymaker. But they're trying everything they can to offset declines in taxpayer funding from the state treasury.

Mealing said the advertising push will be "piloted" in five state parks in eastern Washington and five in western Washington and then be reevaluated by the parks commission. She said the ten guinea pig parks have not been chosen yet.

The turn toward advertising comes at the direction of the Washington Legislature, which approved a business plan in 2014 to allow advertising and other revenue-generating measures in parks.

Late in 2015, Washington State Parks began placing ads on its website.

In neighboring Idaho, the state Department of Parks and Recreation turned to advertising in parks to enhance revenue in 2013. Washington's guidelines resemble those Idaho adopted earlier. After the Great Recession, some county parks and recreation departments beat the path to commercial advertising. That includes King County Parks which manages parks, trails and pools in the suburbs of Seattle.

Oregon State Parks spokesman Chris Havel called the adoption of advertising in parks by neighboring states, "a very interesting development."

"We don’t have a ban on advertising, but we shy away from it unless it’s part of a broader public service," Havel wrote in an email. "We already cooperate with local Chambers of Commerce at several parks, for example, where the Chamber has space to display information about businesses that park visitors would find useful."

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.