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WA State Parks could shorten campsite stay limits beginning this summer

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Washington parks officials are looking at shortening the time people are allowed to stay in state campgrounds.

The proposed limits would set a maximum stay length of 10 nights in one park within 30 days. They’d also cap the time a person could stay per calendar year in all state parks at 90 days. The limits would apply year-round. If adopted, they’d take effect Aug. 18.

“Due to increased demands for camping over the past few years, the update has been needed to make camping stay limits clear and consistent for our visitors,” Sarah Fronk, a Washington State Parks spokesperson, said in an email.

“Our parks are not – and never were – designed for long-term stays or residential use,” Fronk added. “They don’t have the infrastructure, legislative mandate, funding or mission to provide these services.”

As it stands, the maximum stay at state campgrounds can vary between parks but can’t be less than 10 nights or more than 14 between April 1 and Sept. 30. After hitting the maximum stay, campers have to leave for three consecutive nights before they can return to a campground.

Between Oct. 1 and March 31, the maximum length of stay is 20 consecutive nights, after which a camping party has to leave the park for at least three consecutive nights. People also cannot stay more than 40 days at a campground in a 60-day period.

The proposal to tighten stay limits was originally floated in December 2022.

Overnight visitation to state parks has declined in each of the past two years but is still higher than before the pandemic. In 2019, State Parks logged 2.2 million overnight stays. The number hit 2.5 million in 2021, the highest mark on record. In 2023, it was 2.3 million.

State Parks says more than 90 people spent more than 90 total nights at its campgrounds during 2023 and two individuals each stayed 115 nights.

Fronk didn’t directly address a question about whether the proposal was in response to concerns about people who are unhoused turning to state campgrounds as a place to stay.

“We recognize visitors come to us for a variety of personal reasons. Our mission is to provide recreational experiences in a safe, clean and welcoming environment,” she said.

Parks that had the most overnight visitors last year included Deception Pass, on the north end of Whidbey Island (160,113), Cape Disappointment, south of Long Beach, near the mouth of the Columbia River (126,900), and Steamboat Rock on Banks Lake (100,686).

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is accepting public comments through July 12 on the proposed update to campsite stay limits. The Commission plans to discuss the possible rule change at its July 18 meeting.

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