In an attempt to balance the San Juan County Parks budget, food trucks, ‘glamping’ and making Shaw park day-use only are all options on the table.
“From my perspective, it’s a good idea to have a community conversation about [commercial endeavors] before we do anything really large,” San Juan County Parks and Fair Director Dona Wuthnow said. “We are making a major departure from the historical philosophy of managing the county parks and making them more commercial oriented. So I don’t want you to miss that piece. It’s not a small thing to shift to this type of thing.”
Wuthnow, along with Fairgrounds and Event Manager Jennifer Allen and Administrative Lead Kathryn Hansen, gave a budget presentation to the San Juan County Council during its Nov. 12 meeting.
The county council is set to finalize its biennium budget the week of Dec. 9.
Wuthnow suggested the county rent a single site from the campgrounds on San Juan and Lopez to a vendor for a fee of $45 per day, and on Shaw for $35. With $3,000 budgeted for site improvements, Wuthnow estimated a total revenue of $22,870 from having a glamping site at all three county park campgrounds.
“We would want to lease [the sites] to a concessionaire and we do have have a concession option in our county code for the parks department,” Wuthnow said. “I made some assumptions, one is that I feel that since the glamping fees charged are somewhere between $170 and $250 a night that we should charge a little bit more per day for them to be able to use that site than are posted.”
While San Juan and Shaw would be open from April 1 to Oct. 30, in Wunthow’s suggestion, Lopez would close on Oct. 15, noting the season tends to wrap up faster on Lopez than the other islands. She was enthusiastic about having the glamping option at Shaw.
“It’s such a unique experience to be at Shaw that I think having the glamping there would make it really attractive to people because it’s kind of the only quasi-wilderness, isolated situation in the San Juan Islands,” Wuthnow said.
Councilmember Rick Hughes said he believes that vendors should have to pay rent on the space throughout the year instead of just during the months they use the site for glamping purposes. He noted it could be a potential increase of $5,000-$10,000.
“This is a rare opportunity for one vendor to come into our parks and have this potential, I think we need to charge them every day of the year and they can decide when they want to use it or not use it,” Hughes said. “There’s a missed revenue opportunity there. If they want to do business in our county parks … there should be a year-round additional cost.”
Councilmember Bill Watson noted that it could be a bit of a barrier to having a single site located on a different island.
“Multiple glampings at a single location would get better servings by a vendor than spread out in three different locations on three islands requiring triple staff and lots of travel,” Watson said.
During budget talks, Wuthnow’s team looked into the possibility of hosting food trucks at the county-owned parks on Lopez, San Juan and Orcas as a means of making approximately $4,600 for the department.
The plan Wuthnow brought to the council included two truck spaces at the north end of the Eastsound Village Green leased for $15 per spot per day Monday through Friday, May 1-Sept. 15. This would net $2,550, she added.
“It is so hard, in Eastsound, on a year-round basis to find food options. I think it’s business incubation, I think it gives the farm-to-table extension of our food culture on Orcas, or anywhere in the county, and I just think we should be open to it and see what happens,” Hughes said. “I think the community would be really open to the concept. … I just think this is something that could be really amazing.”
For Odlin County Park on Lopez, Wuthnow continued, the county would allow a food truck and an ice cream vendor seven days a week from June 15 through Labor Day, netting $1,200. San Juan County Park lacks parking space for a truck, she explained, but could host a coffee cart seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, netting $900.
Shaw Park’s future
According to the county’s preliminary 2020-2021 budget document, Shaw County Park ran at a deficit of nearly $57,000 in 2018.
“Shaw Park served over 5,500 camper nights in 2018, including individual and group camper participants,” Wuthnow told the Journal.
The park is projected to lose more than $60,000 in 2020 and more than $70,000 in 2021, according to the preliminary budget.
“Council is considering a higher fee increase than I’ve proposed in this budget that could add $3,000-$5,000 in additional revenues,” Wuthnow told the Journal.
Proposition 2 levy lift, which passed by a margin of 202 votes, will provide $326,000 annually to help fund maintenance and operation of county parks.
“Did we think about converting Shaw Park completely to Glamping, given its unique location and high-end island?” Watson asked. “I don’t know why but it just popped into my head ‘maybe that should be the high-end camping location.’”
County Council Chairperson Jamie Stephens noted that the county could consider making the park a day-use only to save more than $30,000 annually. No decision has been made.
Other budget items
Wuthnow suggested a camping fee schedule increase of 1 percent on San Juan, with large group camping fees increasing 4.7 percent; 6.5 percent raise at Lopez; 10 percent at Shaw; and 13 percent at the fairgrounds.
Another suggested income source for the parks department is a retail sales program. With donated artwork and a $5,000 donation, Wuthnow explained how the county can earn a total of $13,250 by selling stickers, water bottles, hoodies and baseball caps.
Donation programs could also help with revenue options, such as having an option to donate $5 when making online camping reservations or a donation cash box stationed at Eagle Cove Park on San Juan. Wuthnow anticipated a net revenue of $8,900 in donations gathered in this manner.
Renting out the Marie Boe building at the San Juan County Fairgrounds is another potential revenue source, Wuthnow said. The building could hypothetically house a music and art festival and a trade show in partnership with a sponsor.
“I’m excited to see us getting toward a [balanced] budget kind of scenario,” Hughes said.