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As Oregon State Parks Slowly Reopen, Layoffs Are Inevitable

<p>A man walks&nbsp;hand-in-hand with a small boy in Smith Rock State Park on May 16, 2020.&nbsp;</p>

Stephani Gordon


A man walks hand-in-hand with a small boy in Smith Rock State Park on May 16, 2020. 

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department says worker layoffs are necessary because of a revenue dropoff caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The agency has been slowly reopening state parks with limited services throughout the state since closing them all in March, but it will now eliminate 47 positions by June 30 as it continues to face economic challenges due to COVID-19. Those positions include support staff and program coordinators from the Salem office.

“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,” OPRD Director Lisa Sumption said. “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.”

The agency’s main sources of revenue are park visitors and the Oregon Lottery fund. OPRD receives 44% from the Oregon Lottery and 50% from fees paid by park visitors. Both revenue streams have declined during the past few months.

The agency said so far, it is projecting a $22 million gap for the 2019-2021 budget.

OPRD Spokesman Chris Havel said budget concerns are another reason more state parks are not able to reopen. He said with limited staff, it is not as easy as flipping a switch and opening the gates.

“The reason we weren’t able to get right back to offering a full suite of services people are used to is because of the shortage of staff in the field. So we're talking now about layoffs of 47 positions here, mainly in the Salem offices,” Havel said, “But that goes on top of the hundreds of positions that we were unable to hire to help out on the field in late spring and here getting on to the early summer.”

Havel said he considers this the second round of layoffs for the agency, as they struggle to fill in the more than 400 seasonal positions to help operate parks earlier this year. Only 77 had been hired by the time the hiring system closed in March when it became clear their budget was unstable.

Havel said none of the 77 seasonal workers will be let go early.

The agency said it will continue to slowly reopen more state parks but will begin to move workers from one park to another to help with reopenings. Typical services such as trash collection, restrooms and showers will be limited, because of costs and limited staffing.

Reservations at state parks will continue to be accepted online but in a limited manner.

Havel said park visitors can help by treating park properties gently, using as little water and power as possible and packing out trash.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Monica Samayoa
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