The national and state parks systems function in fundamentally different ways although to serve a very similar purpose. They both maintain and manage large areas of land for conserving the wonders of the natural environment and to promote a positive visitor experience. The National Park Service (NPS) focuses on nationally significant features with a focus on an educational visitor experience. State parks on the other hand extend this visitor experience to encompass all recreational demands such as camping, biking, fishing, using off road vehicles and more. One interesting note, on the NPS’s mission, is that they are striving, in the 21st century, to bring national parks closer to people and dense urban centers to captivate a wider audience. This contrasts greatly from their original mission to bring the people to the parks.
The decision-making process with in the National Park Service is very political and has many checks and process’s. In summary, the process of land decisions starts with a general management plan. This is where the park is zoned, like a city, in a fashion that indicates environmentally sensitive areas, event prone areas, and suitable stable areas for visitor use. This plan is sent through review by several parties, including local tribes, the NPS office, public forums, state agencies and any other interested parties. A visitor use plan is created by the park managers and is part of the general management plan, this is where changes to camping areas and visitor access is planned and maintained. Visitors can influence these plans when they are released to the public for comment. Given the extensive process these documents go through they are infrequently updated and on average are reviewed every 10-15 years by the NPS unless more urgent attention is brought forward.
The Washington State Parks (WSP) could not be more different than the National Park Service. In 2013 general funding for the state parks was eliminated and the WSP was looked at to generate their own revenue. WSP generates most of its revenue through the sale of Discovery Passes and camping/ parking permits. Because of the need to be self-sustaining WSP functions in many ways like a private company. If changes to the existing parks are to be considered, they are accompanied by analysis and reports since the WSP must consider the profitability of all decisions. This could be good news for some campers as it should promote more capital investments to provide more recreation opportunities within the parks to increase revenues.