Park inside our parks?

Park inside our parks? Be prepared to pay, again

PENINSULA — In contrast to loud complaints that dogged efforts to implement access fees for parks between 2002 and 2006, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed new fees into law last week “flanked by recreation enthusiasts,” according to a press release from her office.

Washington State Parks and other managers of state lands have struggled for years to maintain public facilities in the face of inconsistent legislative and taxpayer support. State Parks has long advocated charging for use in some manner, a strategy that is used to support park operations in most other states, including Oregon.

This year, grappling with a multi-billion dollar budget hole, a new comprehensive fee was proposed and sailed through the Legislature based on strong Democratic support. All three local District No. 19 legislators voted in favor.

The Discover Pass will be required as of July 1 for vehicle access to recreation lands and water-access sites managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The pass — which will be available for sale in mid-June — will cost $30 a year per vehicle or $10 for a day-use pass. State recreation lands include state parks, boat launches, campgrounds, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, trails and trailheads. There will continue to be no charge for using or driving on state beaches.

“It is essential that we keep our recreation areas open to the public,” Gregoire said. “I applaud the Legislature for coming together with a solution that allows us to help keep our state recreation lands open and accessible during the worst budget crisis in the state’s history.”

Once available, the Discover Pass can be purchased at one of nearly 600 sporting goods or other retail stores that sell hunting and fishing licenses. It will also be available for purchase online or by calling toll free 1-866-320-9933. Beginning next fall, the public will be able to purchase a pass when renewing a vehicle license through the Washington State Department of Licensing. The Discover Pass or day-use pass must be visibly displayed in the front windshield of any motor vehicle.

Revenue from the Discover Pass will fill budget gaps created by the loss of State General Fund support for parks and recreation on state lands. Revenue will be split among the three state agencies that provide recreational access to state lands in proportion to their need for general fund replacement: 84 percent to State Parks; 8 percent to WDFW; and 8 percent to DNR.

Holders of certain types of fishing and hunting licenses, registered campers in state parks and other users are exempt from some Discover Pass requirements. For example, buying a hunting license will entitle hunters to park within lands specifically managed by WDFW, but not State Parks. For details, visit  www.discoverpass.wa.gov

In 2002, the Legislature implemented a $5 daily parking fee for State Parks. But the fee was removed after three years. At the time, then state Sen. Mark Doumit of Cathlamet said, “We made a real mistake a few years ago putting this fee on the parks. It hurt a lot of people — mostly poor people.”

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