Say goodbye to free park access

Feb 1, 2011

Wanna use state parks and other recreational lands this summer? Under a new proposal, you’ll have to cough up a $30 annual fee.

Democratic Senator Kevin Ranker of Friday Harbor is sponsor of Senate Bill 5622. The measure would raise money for state parks, as well as the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, at a time when the state’s budget crisis is forcing lawmakers to close a massive budget gap.

Jordan Schrader at The News Tribune notes that:

The price tag has grown since the state parks commission first put pencil to paper at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire, who wants to move the parks system off the general fund. To move to a "user-pays" funding scheme for the parks, the commission said in December it would need to sell a $10 annual parking pass or charge $5 daily parking fees. But state officials say they would need higher fees to raise $71 million through the passes.

A post at the website for the Parks and Recreation Commission says Governor Chris Gregoire’s proposed budget for the next two-year budget cycle – which starts on July 1 – slashes the budget for state parks by a whopping 70 percent. By 2013, the governor proposes to zero out money for parks.

The Parks and Recreation Commission says:

Faced with the prospect of losing tax support for parks operations, the Commission believes that user-based fees are the best and fairest option we have to operate the park system, because it relies upon those who use the parks to pay for them. We are optimistic that this could support the system.

Park user groups are struggling to deal with the prospect of having to pay to access public lands. There’s a Facebook group called “Washington State Parks- Fight Closures NOW!”

Some user groups seem resigned to having to fork over some cash to keep their favorite recreation. The Washington Trails Association, a hiking group, says it’s actually OK with Ranker’s $30 annual fee.

To us, this a much better option than the earlier draft proposal that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) released, proposing a required user fee of $10 per person per day or a $40 annual pass for each person. These amounts are dramatically out of sync with the Forest Service's fees and we've argued against these fees fearing that they will not only drive people off of DNR lands, but would also be extremely challenging to enforce.

Also under consideration are a host of higher fees for hunting and fishing licenses, camping, boat ramps and other more.

If the governor is successful, in just two years, Washington will have shifted to a model of paying for outdoor recreation completely with user fees.