The state parks system is stepping up marketing of the pay-to-park Discover Pass this summer after disappointing early sales.
A public relations firm with a $157,500 state contract and a mission to promote social networking is building a new website debuting as soon as Friday.
The interactive site, at AdventureAwaits.com, will encourage visitors to post pictures, videos, stories and recommendations from their trips to Washington's more than 100 state parks.
"It really will allow the user to make this their own," said Ilene Frisch, assistant director for administration at the state Parks and Recreation Commission.
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The contractor, Weber Shandwick, successfully bid to win the contract and then drew up a marketing plan in March outlining strategies on everything from Twitter use to greater visibility for Washington State Parks' mascot - now known as Eager Beaver, but whose name could change based on the results of focus groups.
The agency is involved in another bid process to create a mobile-device app, and is also hiring a marketingcoordinator, Cathie Tedrick.
Officials hope the efforts will boost revenues from donations, various visitor fees and, most importantly, the Discover Pass, the fee the Legislature created last year when it ended free parking at state parks.
For $30 a year or $10 a day, buyers get access to parks, state forests and other recreational lands. The agency is banking on the revenue to run its operations, which were mostly funded by taxpayer money as recently as 2009 but now are almost entirely dependent on user fees.
The parks agency originally predicted the Discover Pass would raise $32 million a year, most of it dedicated to parks. But it brought in just$11.3 million in its first 10 months which ended in April.
Frisch said the pass is now meeting new, lower projections. Lawmakers are hopeful a change they made this year in response to complaints will help sales. Pass holders are now allowed to transfer their passes to a second car.
Officials say one obstacle to the pass' success has been a lack of public awareness. The marketing website and new posters at parks will depict where the money goes, including park ranger salaries and visitor-center upkeep. The website will link to Discover Pass sales.
"We are obviously going into this (marketing campaign) because we need to be sure we can live on the money we're earning and we need to get as much revenue as we can to keep all the parks open," Frisch said.