State parks to charge fees

Published on Thu, May 19, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Starting July 1, vehicle access to state parks and other types of state recreation lands across Washington will come with a charge. 

On May 12, Governor Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law that will allow the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the state departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife to charge $10 per vehicle per day for access to state-managed areas, including state parks, campgrounds, heritage sites and wildlife and natural areas.

The law also created the Discover Pass, which will allow access to all state-maintained lands for $30 per year.

Available in June, the Discover Pass will be sold across the state at approximately 600 vendors who also sell fishing and hunting licenses. In Blaine and Birch Bay, Discover Passes will be available for purchase at Ace Northwest, Bay Center Market and Pacific Building Center/True Value.

Discover Passes must be purchased per vehicle and cannot be shared among park goers. The penalty for parking longer than 30 minutes on state-managed lands without a Discover Pass will be $99. Starting in the fall, Discover Passes can be purchased while registering a vehicle with the state department of licensing.

The money from the access fees and the Discover Pass will help counteract the loss of state funding for state parks. The state will send 84 percent of the money back to state parks, while the remaining 16 percent will be split between the state departments of natural resources and fish and wildlife. That means approximately $25 from every Discover Pass will fund state parks.

Birch Bay State Park manager Ted Morris said he only expects a small drop in attendance because of the new fees.
While Morris said he would prefer no fees, he would rather see the parks charge than close their gates for good.

“If I could wave a magic wand and fill the coffers, I would do that,” Morris said. “I always cringe at the thought of closing parks.”
Only cars, trucks and motorcycles will be subject to the fee, Morris added. He said anyone could still walk or bike into Birch Bay State Park for free, as long as they don’t plan on camping.

Most visitors will likely purchase the Discover Pass rather than pay $10 each time they visit, Morris said.

The state parks commission pushed for the Discover Pass as a way to keep state parks funded in a time when money is scarce, he explained.

No state parks funding is included in the proposed biennium budget being discussed in the state legislature, he said.
Over the last few years, the funding for state parks decreased to less than one quarter of one percent of the total state budget.
This is not the first time Washington has charged for non-camping use of state parks. The state legislature passed a law in 2003 that charged $5 per day and $50 for an annual pass. Morris said Birch Bay State Park brought in about $25,000 per year while those fees were in place.

While Birch Bay State Park attendance decreased a little after the fees were first charged, Morris said it returned to previous levels within the year. The state abolished the fees in 2006.

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