Bill would charge fee to access state recreation sites

Feb 16, 2011

First the state Senate, now the House. Either way, it’ll cost you ten bucks to visit a Washington State Park for the day if the legislature passes measures now being considered in Olympia.

House Bill 1796, which was taken up by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, would mean that visitors to state recreation sites would have to buy either a $30 annual pass or a $10 single-day pass.

The Kitsap Sun reports that most of the initial proceeds would be deposited in a special state parks fund, while the rest would be divided between the state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Those departments own or manage more than 6.6 million acres of public land.

In her proposed budget for the 2011-2013 spending period, Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested slashing the Parks and Recreation budget by 52 percent, while the Fish and Wildlife budget would face a 47 percent cut.

Right now, park visitors are asked to pay an optional $5 per vehicle, but under the proposed law, the opt-out donation program would be abolished.

 "This is alternative funding that would allow us to keep open our facilities and trails," Department of Natural Resources supervisor Lenny Young said of the proposed access fee.

But critics of HB 1796 predicted that attendance at recreation sites would drop significantly if it becomes law.

"We have to find another way," said Lynn Kessler, the former House majority leader. "This is going to exclude more people from our parks than ever before in the history of our state."

Other opponents of paying to access state lands have created a Facebook page called Washington State Parks - fight closures NOW!

Erin Burke of Port Angeles, who was visiting Kitsap Memorial State Park, told the Sun:

“Paying a fee would be "better that than the parks closing."

The state Senate is considering a similar measure, HB 5622.