State parks commission to instituteday use fees

Published on Thu, Mar 29, 2001 by Soren Velice and Meg Olson

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State parks commission to institute
day use fees

By Soren Velice and Meg Olson

Starting January 1, 2002, visitors to Birch Bay State Park may have to pay, if they come in on wheels.

At its March 22 meeting the state parks and recreation commission set a day-use vehicle fee of $5 per day or $30 for an annual pass for Birch Bay and 97 of Washington’s 124 other state parks. Peace Arch State Park would be exempt from the fee.

“We have a $40 million maintenance backlog and $300 million in capital improvements and renovations we need,” parks commission spokesperson Anne Hersley-Hankins said. “It’s things like picnic tables, barbecue braziers, tent pads, bathrooms and sewer systems used by 46 million visitors a year – things people take for granted until they’re gone.”

“It was a pretty extensive evaluation,” Hersley-Hankins said of the commission’s process for developing the fees. “It included evaluating other park systems throughout the nation and conducting a public survey. It indicated if money is used specifically for parks, people said they would pay $6 or $7 a day.” She said the commission came to the amount by looking at what other systems charge, what it sees as fair and what the public would accept.

Hersley-Hankins said the commission came to the decision reluctantly, passing a resolution after the vote stating they did so only with the understanding that no viable alternative exists to obtain maintenance dollars. “To some extent, we’re at the mercy of the legislature,” she said. “But the sole interest of the commission is to impose a fee that goes back into the system to maintain parks.”

Different parks will enforce the fees in different ways, Hersley-Hankins said. “We’ll use either park personnel or the automated system,” she said. “We’ll look at each park and see what’s best.”

Hersley said part of the reason the fees are needed is an imbalance between camping use fees and day use. While camping fees account for 70 percent of parks revenue, 90 percent of park visits are day-users.

“I hate to see people need to pay for day-use, but it’s come to the point where the commission needed to make some tough decisions,” said Birch Bay State Park manager Ted Morris. “We need to make sure we preserve one of the greatest park systems in the country. We are fourth in the nation for day use but 49th for funding, receiving less than half of a cent of every state dollar. If we had only a penny we’d be sitting pretty.”

Morris said Birch Bay, like all parks, has seen it’s infrastructure degrade over years of budget cuts and that day-use parking fees might help replace things like broken water lines. There is also the possibility of new facilities, which hasn’t been an option for many years, he said. “If we do end up collecting fees it’s essential all the dollars go back into our parks,” Morris added.

Ultimately, the decision could come down to the legislature or the governor, according to Morris; twice since 1993 the commission has put forward a similar measure only to have it shot down further up the governmental tree.

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