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Parks and Recreation

Below are some frequently asked questions and other selected inquiries that MRSC has received related to local government parks and recreation. Click on any question to see its answer.

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Can someone spread cremated human remains in a public park?
Reviewed: 01/18

State law allows the scattering of remains in this manner, provided the person seeking to spread the ashes obtains permission. RCW 68.50.130 provides (emphasis added):

Every person who performs a disposition of any human remains, except as otherwise provided by law, in any place, except in a cemetery or a building dedicated exclusively for religious purposes, is guilty of a misdemeanor. Disposition of cremated human remains may also occur on private property, with the consent of the property owner; and on public or government lands or waters with the approval of the government agency that has either jurisdiction or control, or both, of the lands or waters.

Note, that if the scattering is not being done by a close relative (spouse, adult child, parent, sibling) or by an authorized representative of the deceased person, a permit from the state cemetery board is required. See RCW 68.05.195.

Several national parks have information about spreading ashes within a park. There are certain rules one must follow, and a person has to obtain permission to do so. See, e.g., Yosemite National Park’s webpageon scattering cremated remains.

The agency operating the park could consider adopting a formal policy or ordinance regarding the scattering of ashes on its public property, or it could grant permission on a case-by-case basis and ask the person to adhere to any conditions that the agency thinks appropriate. For more information, see MRSC’s Cemeteries and Cemetery Administration topic page.

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Request for sample ordinances that prohibit smoking of any kind—including tobacco and e-cigarettes—in city parks.
Reviewed: 10/17

Here are several examples of total or partial bans on smoking in city parks. Some also specifically include e-cigarettes.


Partial Bans

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Does MRSC have any sample code provisions related to urban farms?
Reviewed: 10/17

Here are some sample code provisions from jurisdictions in Washington State:

In addition, the following information may be of interest:

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If a city becomes part of a metropolitan park district, does it lose part of its levy ability as it would when annexing to a library or fire district?
Reviewed: 04/14

No. Only if the city annexes to a library or fire district would it have to surrender some of its levy capacity to the district. Annexing to a metropolitan park district would have no effect on the city's maximum levy rate.

Here is a link to the MRSC web page on Metropolitan Park District Finance. Also see MRSC's Revenue Guide for Washington Cities and Towns, where there is an explanation of the library and fire district levy impact on cities.

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May metropolitan park districts fund a human services program?
Reviewed: 01/14

No. Metropolitan park districts, as authorized by chapter 35.61 RCW, do not have authority to fund human services programs.

RCW 35.61.010 provides in part:

A metropolitan park district may be created for the management, control, improvement, maintenance, and acquisition of parks, parkways, boulevards, and recreational facilities.

More specific information regarding the authority of a metropolitan park district is set out in RCW 35.61.130. Neither RCW 35.61.010 nor RCW 35.61.130, however, provides sufficiently broad authority to allow for the operation of a human services component; each seems to be limited to more traditional forms of parks and recreation.

It is significant that the language of the two statutes makes no reference to human services-type programs. Special purpose districts--- a metropolitan park district is a special purpose district---have, under the "Dillon Rule," only those powers specifically given to them. That rule provides that, unless a power is specifically given to the municipal entity or necessarily implied from the powers given, it does not exist; it further provides that those powers the district is given are to be narrowly construed. Without some statutory reference to human services, it is our opinion that the funding of such programs would be beyond the district’s authority.

Your question indicates that many park and recreation programs include a human services component. The reason that might be is that some cities (code cities and first class cities) are not controlled by the Dillon Rule. Code cities and first class cities have a broad grant of authority, as broad as that held by the legislature, limited only where preempted by state law, or where there is a direct conflict with state law or the state constitution. Because of this broad grant of authority, first class and code cities can provide human services in their parks departments or elsewhere; special districts, governed by different rules, cannot.

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Request for information on friends of parks groups and park foundations
Reviewed: 01/14

As a starting point, take a look at MRSC/s webpage on Park Foundations. This includes links to several park foundations in Washington cities and counties.

Here are some additional links on park foundations and friends groups:

"Friends" groups and park foundations are becoming increasingly common, as park departments seek additional financial support and advocates for their programs and services. In Washington, cities and counties with park foundations or friends groups include Everett, Kent, King County, Seattle, San Juan County, Skagit County, Spokane, Vancouver-Clark County, and Whatcom County. Other cities that have considered establishing their own local foundations are Enumclaw and Lynnwood. Most park foundations are found in larger cities and counties. Some friends organizations are established for specific parks or types of parks, such as Seattle's Friends of Seattle's Olmsted Parks.

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Can park and recreation districts cover more than one county?
Reviewed: 01/14

Yes, park and recreation districts can be located in more than one county. The options include: (1) a park and recreation service area (see RCW 36.68.400), (2) a joint park and recreation district (see RCW 36.69.420), or (3) a metropolitan park district (see RCW 35.61.010). The joint park and recreation district (RCW 36.69.420 -.460) is similar to the park and recreation district but encompasses territory within more than one county. These can include part of the unincorporated county and part of the city. The formation is either through a petition process or by resolution of the city and county. The district would be a separate governmental entity.

For more information on park and recreation districts, see MRSC's webpage on Comparison of Recreation Districts: Park & Recreation District, Park & Recreation Service Area, and Metropolitan Park District.  Additional information on Metropolitan Park Districts may be found on MRSC's webpage on Metropolitan Park Districts.

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Is the formation of a metropolitan park district limited to cities over 5,000 population?
Reviewed: 01/14

No; there is no requirement that a city have a population of at least 5,000 to form a metropolitan park district. The establishment of a metropolitan park district in a city is governed by the provisions in Ch. 35.61 RCW. Prior to 2002, the law did include a city size restriction for formation of a metropolitan park district, but the size restriction was eliminated in 2002. Now, the law allows one or more cities and/or counties to create such a district for "the management, control, improvement, maintenance, and acquisition of parks, parkways, and boulevards...."

RCW 35.61.010 specifically authorizes a metropolitan park district to be formed that includes areas outside of the city, or even in another city or county. (Previously, districts were confined within city limits.)  Any territory annexed to a city that lies entirely within the limits of a metropolitan park district shall be deemed to be within the limits of the (expanded) park district. Formation or extension of park district boundaries is no longer subject to boundary review board (BRB) review if only city territory is involved, independent of the board's review of the city annexation (RCW 35.61.250). (A proposed district that involves area within a county will still be subject to a BRB review in counties that still have a BRB.)

There are two basic methods for the formation of a metropolitan park district. The city may initiate council district formation by adopting a resolution submitting a proposition for its formation to voters within the district boundaries. If the district includes area within the county or other cities and counties, the legislative body of each city and/or county which includes a portion or all of the area in the district must adopt a resolution submitting the proposition to the voters.

Alternately, a metropolitan district may be initiated via a petition with the signatures of fifteen percent of the registered voters of the city (or area of the proposed district). The petition must be submitted to the county, and the proposition is then submitted to the voters of the city at any general, special, or city election (RCW 35.61.020). Where the petition is for creation of a district in more than one county, the original petition is filed with the county having the greater area within the district and a copy filed with each other county auditor.

Please see the MSRC webpage on Metropolitan Park Districts. Also see our table on Comparison of Recreation Districts.

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Request for information on funding sources for the acquisition of parks and open space
Reviewed: 01/14

This is in response to a request for information on funding sources for the acquisition of parks and open space. This includes information on non-monetary options to acquire and protect open space. The following is a list of the primary options that we've identified:

Funding options for park and open space acquisition

  • Impact fees
  • Real estate excise tax
  • Conservation futures tax
  • General obligation bond
  • Fee-in-lieu of dedication of parks and open space
  • Grants
  • Purchase of development rights program (would still need funding, e.g., bond measure)

Non-monetary options for park and open space acquisition

  • Parks and/or open space dedication requirement as part of subdivision
  • Density bonus or clustering for preservation of open space
  • Density transfer
  • Development agreements (not involving fee-in-lieu of dedication)
  • Transfer of development rights program
  • Less than fee simple - purchase of development rights; conservation easements
  • King County four-to-one program

Other incentives for land preservation in open space

  • Current use tax assessment

More detail on these options is presented below:

Impact Fees

Impact fees are charges assessed against newly-developing property that attempt to recover the cost incurred by a local government in providing the public facilities required to serve the new development. For counties and cities planning under the Growth Management Act, impact fees are specifically authorized under RCW 82.02.090(7) only for: "(1) public streets and roads; (2) publicly owned parks, open space, and recreation facilities; (3) school facilities; and (4) fire protection facilities in jurisdictions that are not part of a fire district." (emphasis added) Typically, if impact fees are imposed, these take the place of a fee-in-lieu program (see below). Impact fees are also authorized under SEPA. The Washington State Environmental Policy Act, Ch. 43.21C RCW, grants broad authority to impose mitigating conditions relating to a project's environmental impacts. Some cities have interpreted SEPA's authority to mitigate environmental impacts to include authority to impose impact fees. A municipality pursuing this course must establish a proper foundation. Local SEPA policies authorizing the exercise of SEPA substantive authority must be adopted and fees imposed must be rationally related to impacts identified in threshold determination documents (primarily environmental checklists) or environmental impact statements. Fees collected under SEPA may not duplicate fees collected under other sources of authority.

Also see the MRSC webpage on Impact Fees.

Real Estate Excise Tax

A real estate excise tax (REET) is levied on all real estate sales measured by the full selling price, including the amount of any liens, mortgages, and other debts given to secure the purchase. (See Ch. 82.46 RCW.) Also see the MRSC's webpage on Real Estate Excise Tax, which provides information on how various categories of REET funds may be spent.

Conservation Futures Tax

See RCW 84.34.200 - 84.34.250. This levy money may be used solely for the purpose of acquiring rights and interests (such as easements) in real property. Counties that have adopted this tax levy include Clark, Ferry, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, and Whatcom.

Open Space Bond

These would be general obligation bonds, either limited tax general obligation - also called councilmanic bonds - which may be issued by a vote of the county commissioners or unlimited general obligation bonds, which must be approved by 60 percent of the voters, with a voter turnout that is at least 40 percent of those voting in the most recent general election. The county would need to hire a bond counsel if the county decides to issue bonds. If the county decided to authorize the one percent real estate excise tax for conservation areas, the county would probably want to issue councilmanic bonds, pledging the tax receipts for debt service. It would also have to pledge to use general fund monies as a backup, in case the real estate excise tax receipts were insufficient.

Fee in Lieu of Parks and Open Space

The fee-in-lieu of parks and open space option must be voluntary and is authorized in RCW 82.02.020.

In Washington, local governments have two basic sources of authority for requiring developers to dedicate land for parks: Ch. 58.17 RCW, the State Subdivision Law, and Ch. 43.21C RCW, the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Under the state subdivision law, cities and towns can insure that developers install appropriate improvements, including parks, recreation, and playground improvements, through their power to approve or disapprove proposed subdivisions. When the dedication of land is not practical or feasible, some cities and counties have provided for the collection of fees from developers in lieu of land dedications pursuant to "voluntary agreements" adopted under RCW 82.02.020 or as part of a mitigation condition imposed under SEPA.

Under RCW 82.02.020, a county or city may enter into a voluntary agreement with a subdivision developer to allow a payment in lieu of a dedication of land or to mitigate any direct impacts that have been identified as a consequence of the proposed development or subdivision. The permitting agency must be able to establish that an impact fee collected pursuant to a voluntary agreement is "reasonably necessary as a direct result of the proposed development or plat." Funds collected under voluntary agreements must be held in a reserve account and expended on agreed upon capital improvements. Fees must also be expended within five years or be refunded with interest. Court decisions, such as Vintage Construction Company, Inc. v. City of Bothell, 83 Wn. App. 605 (1996), have required cities to demonstrate that the fee be related to the value of the land that might otherwise be dedicated.

You may also be interested in the Washington Supreme Court decision, Isla Verde v. Camas, 146 Wn.2d (7/11/02). This decision addresses the nexus between an open space requirement for a subdivision and the impacts of a particular development.

Purchase of Development Rights

Many purchase of development rights programs (as well as transfer of development rights programs) have been used to preserve farmlands. Bainbridge Island and San Juan County have developed programs to purchase open space, which may include environmentally critical areas such as wetlands. A funding source, such as a bond issue, would need to be identified for a purchase of development rights program.

Park or Open Space Dedication Requirement

The dedication of land for parks or open space is a typical requirement of subdivisions, as noted above under "Fee in-lieu-of parks." King County requires open space for residential developments of more than four lots, and Sultan requires open space for more than 10 lots.

Density Bonus and Clustering

A density bonus allows the granting of additional dwelling units or floor area beyond the maximum allowed under the zoning in exchange for preserving an amenity at the same or a separate site. Density bonuses are used for many purposes including the preservation of open space and protection of critical areas as well as to promote affordable housing. Density bonuses are built into planned unit development, planned residential development, and cluster subdivision provisions. Cluster provisions in rural areas may focus on conserving resource lands and promoting larger open space areas consistent with rural character.

Density Transfer

Density transfer involves the transfer of all or part of the permitted density on a parcel to another parcel. Density transfer is also used to protect critical areas and preserve sensitive areas in a natural state.

Development Agreements

Developers may also enter into other agreements with cities that do not involve the payment of money in-lieu-of open space. Such SEPA mitigation agreements might include deferral of subdivision improvements and possibly involve future dedication of land. MRSC legal consultants have advised that these voluntary agreements are not subject to the five-year limitation in RCW 82.02.020.

Conservation Easements


A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values, typically preserving the land as open space or resource land. Conservation easements may be acquired through a purchase or transfer of development rights program or donated on a voluntary basis to a land trust or government agency.

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program

TDR involves the removal of the right to develop from land in one area or zoning district and the transfer of that right to land in another area or district, where development is permitted. This is somewhat similar to the density transfer (which is usually limited to a specific adjacent site or development project), although typically TDR involves transferring development rights to other sites (receiving sites), which are sometimes distant from the sending site. TDR programs are commonly used to preserve agricultural lands but may also apply to open space preservation, historic sites, and affordable housing. King County, Spokane County, Bainbridge Island, and Redmond have TDR programs.

King County Four-to-One Program

King County's four-to-one greenway is an innovative program that allows, via a development agreement, the development of one acre of land as urban for every four acres donated as open space. For further information, contact Kim Claussen, King County Department of Development and Environmental Services, 206-296-7167 or E-mail:

Current Use Assessment - Open Space

The Washington Open Space Taxation Act (Ch. 84.34 RCW) allows property owners to have their open space, farm and agricultural, and timber lands valued at their current use rather than at their highest and best use. The current use assessment program helps to preserve private land in open space, farm, and timber use.

Additional Web Resources:


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Request for information on one percent for art programs
Reviewed: 12/13

See the following links to city code provisions regarding percent for art programs:  

See the following links to public art programs in Washington cities: 

In addition, you may be interested in MRSC's Web page on Arts Commissions and Cultural Programs.

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Do state laws regulating metropolitan park districts (MPDs) allow communities located within a district's boundaries to remove themselves from the district after it has been formed?
Reviewed: 10/13

The statutes that govern metropolitan park districts are contained in chapter 35.61 RCW. These statutes do not allow specific areas within an MPD to take independent action to remove themselves from the district. However, the statutes do authorize park district commissioners to take action to withdraw areas located within their boundaries.

The procedures for withdrawing areas from an MPD are set forth in RCW 35.61.360. RCW 35.61.360(2) provides:

The withdrawal of an area shall be authorized upon: a) Adoption of a resolution by the park district commissioners requesting the withdrawal and finding that, in the opinion of the commissioners, inclusion of this area within the metropolitan park district will result in a reduction of the district's tax levy rate under the provisions of RCW 84.52.010; and (b) adoption of a resolution by the city or town council approving the withdrawal, if the area is located within the city or town, or adoption of a resolution by the county legislative authority of the county within which the area is located approving the withdrawal, if the area is located outside of a city or town. A withdrawal shall be effective at the end of the day on the thirty-first day of December in the year in which the resolutions are adopted, but for purposes of establishing boundaries for property tax purposes, the boundaries shall be established immediately upon the adoption of the second resolution.

Since the area you mentioned is located outside of a city or town, the second resolution would be adopted by the county legislative authority.

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Request for information on establishing an historical society or museum
Reviewed: 03/13

We have not located any cities that have established a historical society directly. Most local historical societies are independent non-profit organizations. Some communities have historical museums as part of city government, including Tumwater, Lacey, Anacortes, Renton, Auburn, Moses Lake, and Wenatchee. These and other cities provide some financial assistance to historical museums and/or historical societies.

The following are some cities that have historical societies and/or museums that may be worth contacting:

The following historical society and museum Web sites may also be interest:

City Codes related to Historical Museums:

In addition, the following documents are available on loan from MRSC's Library:

For literature on historical societies and museums, see the American Association for State and Local History's publications catalog on their Web site. Also take a look at the American Association of Museums Web site.

You may also be interested in MRSC’s Web pages on Arts Commissions and Historic Preservation.

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Can the "cultural council" in a code city, which was established by the city council, put on a fundraising event such as an art auction?
Reviewed: 08/11

Yes. The city, through its cultural council, may engage in fundraising activities, such as an art auction. A code city has broad home rule authority, which means that the city has the authority to take action on matters of local concern except where the state has retained authority over such matters or where it is prohibited by state law. In other words, a code city does not necessarily need express authority to conduct fundraising activities, something that is not prohibited by state law. And, a code city (along with any other class of city) has the express authority to accept donations (RCW 35.21.100), which, in our opinion, implies the authority to solicit donations/engage in fundraising. Also, we have noted that cities have express authority to raise funds through raffles. See RCW 9.46.0209(3).

In a similar context, the attorney general’s office has opined that school districts, which are given some broad discretionary power and which have express statutory authority to accept gifts for certain purposes, "have broad discretion to engage in fundraising activities that arise out of their educational functions, particularly where the activities themselves might be a part of the education program or might enhance students’ educational experiences." AGO 2003 No. 1.

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