Fort Worden scales back staffing, services

Park amenities still available, restaurants closed

Leader news staff
news@ptleader.com
Posted 3/25/20

Fort Worden is temporarily reducing its staff and services in response to the coronavirus, but officials want prospective guests and visitors to know that it’s not discontinuing its operations …

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Fort Worden scales back staffing, services

Park amenities still available, restaurants closed

Posted

Fort Worden is temporarily reducing its staff and services in response to the coronavirus, but officials want prospective guests and visitors to know that it’s not discontinuing its operations entirely.

“It’s important to know that we’re still in business for leisure guests and groups that are under the current state-mandated limit for gatherings,” said Joan Rutkowski, executive coordinator and public records officer for Fort Worden. “Our crew that remains is focused on supporting these guests, maintaining campus facilities and responding to inquiries from folks seeking to visit in the future.”

Rutkowski added that people can still walk around and appreciate the tranquil atmosphere of the campus and state park.

“Over the last couple of weeks, it’s clearly been an important place for people who need to take a break from the news and experience some peace, as they soak in the beauty of the fort,” Rutkowski said.

Nonetheless, due to conference cancellations, as well as other current and projected business losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fort Worden Public Development Authority has reduced its operations, placing the majority of its employees on standby status.

Approximately 65 employees were placed on standby as of March 18, and 10 more were laid off because they were ineligible for standby.

Under standby status, most PDA employees qualify for unemployment benefits almost immediately, and the PDA will cover health insurance premiums through April 30 for employees with those benefits.

This temporary staff reduction is expected to last into May.

Both of the PDA’s restaurants — Reveille and Taps at the Guardhouse — are closed in the meantime.

The PDA has retained a skeleton crew of 14 employees whose roles maintain critical functions so normal operations can resume quickly at the appropriate time.

PDA Executive Director Dave Robison described this as “a very difficult decision,” that was deemed necessary due to Washington state being at “the epicenter” of this country’s outbreak.

“Our employees are dedicated to Fort Worden, our partners and our customers, and we look forward to bringing them back as soon as possible,” Robison said. “But right now, we are in a crisis.”

That being said, the Fort Worden Historic State Park remains open, as Rutkowski noted.

Visitors can still access the beach, bunkers and other park amenities with a Discover Pass or day-use pass, and if they want to check for the latest updates on state park operations, they can visit the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission’s website at parks.state.wa.us/covid19.

The PDA estimates it has already lost close to $500,000 in booked reservations due to the business downturn caused by the virus.

And the PDA released a statement saying it further anticipates that “substantial revenue loss” will continue, due to fewer leisure guests visiting the area, as well as Gov. Inslee’s directives on closing restaurants, limiting group gatherings and social distancing.

“The hospitality industry has been devastated by the spread of this virus, and life as we know it has changed dramatically,” Robison said. “But we’re heartened by the public’s commitment to these containment measures because they will save lives. That’s what is most important.”

Robison characterized his team as resilient, “like the fort itself,” and expressed confidence they “will lean on one another to get us through.”

The PDA had already implemented changes in food service and increased campus-wide deep cleanings early in the virus’ outbreak in Washington state to reduce social contact, but Inslee’s emergency proclamation compelled them to close Taps at the Guardhouse and limit Reveille business to take-out only on March 16.

Robison has been pursuing meetings with local and state officials to obtain additional financial assistance for the PDA’s employees who are on standby.

“So many people in this state and beyond need support, and our community needs to find creative ways to meet this challenge,” Robinson said.

Robison touted the Give Jefferson Emergency Funding Campaign as but one example of “a creative approach to strengthen the community’s support network,” by raising money for nonprofits and community-serving government agencies responding to increased demand for services from those who are either at high risk of contracting COVID-19 or are experiencing financial hardships due to its economic impacts.

With the remaining crew at the fort offering limited hospitality and public services, the fort is still open for visitors who want to rent overnight accommodations.

According to Rutkowski, staff have been fielding phone calls and working with customers who made reservations for conferences and other gatherings at Fort Worden and have helped them reschedule their events either later in the year or in 2021.

Robison explained that two large PDA construction projects remain on schedule at this time, especially since the government and grant funds that support Makers Square and the private loan used to develop the “glamping” project can’t be transferred from these capital projects to support the fort’s general operations.

“We look forward to Makers Square and glamping eventually helping the PDA to expand its customer base and business, rebound from this crisis and facilitate a return to normal operations,” Robison said.

The fort’s 15 nonprofit and for-profit partner businesses that are part of the PDA’s Lifelong Learning Center are making independent decisions about their operations, a number of which are also closing temporarily.

For updates on those organizations’ statuses and program plans, visit fortworden.org/ourstory/onsite-programs.

Comments

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Libby Urner Wennstrom

I find it appalling that even in the face of Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home” order, Fort Worden PDA has decided to prioritize its “leisure guests” over the health of its community. The Governor’s Order was in large part a result of urban residents treating shutdown as a vacation and flocking to rural areas, hugely increasing virus spread as people not yet showing symptoms move around. Jefferson County Commissioners sent a strongly worded letter to the Governor highlighting the dangers of bringing more people into our rural county at a time of healthcare crisis. Our hospital is tiny and already stretched thin. Fort Worden, what on earth are you thinking?

Tell your “leisure guests” to STAY HOME.

Wednesday, March 25
Tom

Timing is everything. It looks like the latest revision to state policy means that all parts of all state parks, including Fort Worden, are to be closed and gated off.

Wednesday, March 25
Fort Worden/Joan R.

Thanks for your feedback Libby. The Leader’s story was based on the PDA’s status last week, which was before the very recent “Stay Home” order and the State Parks announcement. When the press release was drafted we had closed our restaurants and rescheduled group business that would not be allowed given crowd size limits, and we followed the governor’s recommendations that hotels for leisure guests should remain open. Now, as of yesterday, campgrounds, leisure accommodations, and all public-facing services have been shut down at the Fort until further notice in response to the Governor’s statewide “Stay Home” order and the closure of state parks to vehicle access.

Every day our management team meets in the morning to assess how we need to change our operations to comply with mandates, follow best practices, and best serve our community and the state. Since the Leader is a weekly paper, new information – especially with rapid changes due to this situation -- won’t always sync up with their print deadline and with our ability to adjust quickly and figure out the latest daily changes to operations.

Wednesday, March 25
Libby Urner Wennstrom

@Fort Worden - I understand that the story was written before the Governor's Stay Home Order. But the Order was widely anticipated before hand, and was issued Monday evening 3/23; the Leader didn't go to press till Tuesday afternoon 3/24. At the very least, a small correction run above a major story that had been totally changed by recent developments would have seemed in order.

Saturday, March 28
Larry Kallenberger

Will someone at the Fort Worden PDA please drive a stake through the heart of concerts bringing in thousands of people from far and wide to mingle and leave their cares(and their covid-19) behind. The THING is not part of the fabric of our community. While the promoter returned to Seattle after grossing well over $1,000,000 from ticket sales alone there is scant evidence of benefit left behind. The PDA collected some fees and filled beds. The police department acted as security for the event and were paid time and a half for that service. The promoter left town with the rest. Does that sound like an event worth repeating in the midst of a pandemic.

Honestly my friends we live in the county with the oldest average age in the state and we are a summer tourist town. We are the very definition of a high risk community. I am sorry but it is not responsible to encourage tourism this year in Port Townsend. Does anyone really think that having thousands of people a week streaming through town and eating and drinking won’t result in large numbers of cases throughout the summer if we throw the door open. Praise be to Centrum for their responsible action. Shame on the Fort Worden PDA for continuing to think about guest experiences as we speak.

Let’s see-the oldest county in the state bringing in thousands of people from every imaginable corner of existence-what could go wrong? Shut it down and live. That is literally the choice this year in Port Townsend. We cannot allow the boosterism of tourism promotions to extend and revitalize the community spread of Covid-19.

Now is the time to speak up and give ourselves an improved chance of surviving. Progress will recommence and 2021 will bring a vaccine. In the meantime we will develop new habits, tourist business will retool where possible to meet local needs and celebrations will be with a few friends and not with the rest of the world. Local governments will lose revenues and tourism business will shutter to outsiders. They won’t want this social adjustment to last through the summer but it must if we wish to avoid the virus storming back late summer and fall.

| Wednesday, April 8