The cost of parking

Washoe County parks keep it steady

Al Rogers of Washoe County Parks stands inside Wilbur D. May Arboretum.

Al Rogers of Washoe County Parks stands inside Wilbur D. May Arboretum.


Find out more about Washoe County Regional Parks & Open Space at
On Sept. 8, Discover Your Parklands, a free, ranger-guided park tour series, will explore Rancho San Rafael Regional Park’s historical buildings at 7 p.m. 1595. N. Sierra St. For more information, call 823-6510.

Have you noticed Washoe County parks looking a little run down lately? Didn’t think so.

“We have dropped in our service standards, but not to where it’s noticeable” to the average visitor, says Al Rogers, assistant director at Washoe County Regional Parks & Open Space.

The county parks department oversees 45 parks covering 12,092 acres—from sprawling Rancho San Rafael to tucked-away Wilson Commons to a shooting range off Pyramid Highway. It’s funded by just over $5 million from the general fund. That’s nearly the same budget as it had 13 years ago, when there were also more full-time and seasonal employees managing about a third of the current acreage. About $700,000 in grants helps cover costs, as well.

Some things visitors now have to do without: The parks have closed their swimming pools, with the exception of Sun Valley, where the General Improvement District there took it over to keep it open. The grounds are no longer fertilized. Seasonal workers are no longer hired, except at the county golf course. And ranger-interpretive programs have decreased. Yet a community survey this past spring showed visitors hadn’t noticed a big drop in service levels.

One reason for that is volunteer participation—picking up litter, pulling weeds—is up: 15,000 volunteer hours were logged this year, compared to 12,000 the year before. Creative partnerships have also helped, such as when the Boys & Girls Club leased a park building in Lemmon Valley, reducing some park expenses.

“It definitely is a community effort to keep us where we’re at,” says Washoe County parks spokesperson Bob Harmon. “The maintenance guys are not getting the resources they need, but they have a lot of pride in their parks, so they’re trying. Then the volunteer response over the last couple of years has been tremendous and extremely helpful.”

Good thing, because more people are using the parks than in recent years. It’s a cheap form of entertainment, as well as a less expensive venue for things like birthday parties, reunions and weddings. Four million people visited Washoe County parks last year, roughly twice as many as the previous year.

Rogers stands in front of a small waterfall trickling inside the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden. It’s a popular spot for weddings, with a curved seating area facing an elevated platform where a couple can stand. Reservation requests for facilities like this one are up, as well, says Rogers.

Park planners have also been busy trying to secure grants to keep everything moving along despite the cuts—another proposed 10 percent cut is on the table for this fall. But while, in years past, planners would be going after grants to acquire more land, construct trailheads and other additions, now they’re aiming for grants that will let them maintain what they have.

“There is something to be said for keeping things at the level they are,” says Harmon. “There’s no denying we’re not offering all the services we did. But given the level of the cuts—some were around 50 percent—the department, with the assistance of the community, is doing a lot.”