State Campsites Reopen, While Parks Dept, Lays Off Service Workers

Medical advice is that people are generally safer outdoors than in, since virus particles tend to be circulated within a room, making it more likely that they will infect another person. That being the case, it would make sense for parks and campsites to be given priority for reopening. Now, some campsites are opening after a two-month closure, but the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation is only able to open some of its campsites due to a lack of money. 

Parks and Rec does not receive any money from the General Fund. Its primary sources of income are the state lottery and fees paid by park visitors, both of which have dropped during the coronavirus pandemic. They have done their best to avoid layoffs with a hiring freeze and a reduced discretionary spending and deferred maintenance, but they are still left with a likely $22 million budget shortfall which will require them to lay off 47 employees, a number which could grow or shrink depending on how big the deficit turns out to be. 

State park field workers are typically hired seasonally. In a normal year, the department would hire 415 people for the summer. As it is, only the 77 who had been hired when the system shut down in March will definitely be working this Summer, with possibly a few more hired as time goes on. 

“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, OPRD director, told KTVZ. “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.”. 

Services to campsites will be limited due to the reduced budget. Visitors are asked to lighten their footprint by not wasting water or electricity, handling park equipment with care, and packing out their garbage. 

People who want to make a reservation at an OPRD campsite may visit their site or phone 800-452-5687. Reservations will be required for all sites, and can only be made one day to two weeks in advance. 

John M. Burt