Hundreds laid off as coronavirus shutdown costs Metro Parks Tacoma millions in lost revenue

TACOMA, Wahs. — Tuesday was the last day on the job for more than 500 employees and volunteers for Metro Parks Tacoma as the coronavirus shutdown forced parks management to hand out layoff notices.

“It’s just a really sad day for us,” said Metro Parks spokesperson Hunter George. “We’ve never contemplated something like this.”

Shutting down the main attractions at parks including the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and Northwest Trek means massive losses in revenue. Forty-four percent of Metro Parks budget comes from earned revenue, fees paid by park goers.

Shutting down means losses could reach $13 million depending on the length of the closures. That loss means 520 seasonal staff members, part-time employees and seasonal workers have been laid off effective Tuesday.

“It is certainly our understanding that most, if not all, of those folks will qualify for unemployment benefits,” George said.

Some staff members need to stay on the job. Animals at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and Northwest Trek still need to be fed and cared for.

“A lot of people are working from home these days, but zookeepers are definitely a career where you can’t do that,” said Northwest Trek’s zoological curator Marc Heinzman.

Zoo officials began preparing for the shutdown before the first coronavirus cases hit the U.S. And there is food to last if the shutdown continues past April 30.

“Here at Northwest Trek we have a year’s supply of frozen fish in our freezer,” said Heinzman. “So we can feed animals like our eagle and otters and our bears,”

Heinzman said the zoo is working with suppliers to get fresh produce and hay for other animals during the shutdown.