Day use park fees come in quietly
Visitors entering a state park with a vehicle are now required to purchase a $5 daily parking permit.
Ted Morris, director of Birch Bay State Park, said people have mixed reactions about the fee, which was implemented January 1. �Some of the response is as you would expect. Some don�t want to pay the $5,� he said.
For each visitor that has questions or apprehensions, Morris said the staff is using education to bring the problems state parks face to light. �We have a good community. People are understanding,� Morris said.
�Hopefully this vehicle parking permit will save the parks, and keep them intact. Four parks have already closed in the state.�
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission enacted the daily parking fee in an effort to hold the park system together, which recently took a $3 million cut, and may see a proposed cut of $12 million.
Only visitors entering with a vehicle must pay the $5 parking permit fee, or purchase an annual permit for $50. Those on foot and bikes can still enter free of charge.
Benjamin Seymour, a park visitor from Bellingham, believes the fee is valid. �The natural environment deserves our attention, and if it takes the people to pay a fee to cover what the government is cutting, so be it,� he said. �It�s better than closing the parks.�
Washington, Seymour noted, is the last western state to enact fees for state park use. �There are about 35 states in the country that have some sort of day use fee,� he said. �I think Washington should have required a smaller fee at an earlier time. Things would be easier, monetarily.�
But not all visitors are as open to the fee. Natalia Traight, from Vancouver, disagreed with the fee. �We have always come here for free, and this time we have to pay $5. It�s not a lot of money, but it�s still a fee,� she said. �It�s actually more money for visitors coming from Canada, like me.�
At Peace Arch State Park, some visitors are not even aware of the fee, although there are several signs and payment drop boxes telling visitors they have entered a vehicle parking fee area.
�I walked in anyway,� Shana Weston, of Blaine, said. �But if I came in with a vehicle, I probably wouldn�t have noticed it. Plus, there�s no one to tell you.�
Wayne Eden, director of Peace Arch State Park, did not return numerous calls made to his office. However, in a statement made through another member of park personnel, he said he had no comment.
Virginia Painter, a spokesperson for the state, said that all parks, including Peace Arch, have displayed a payment box for the parking fee. Collecting it however, may be more difficult due to the fee adjustment and staffing. �Peace Arch is huge and spread out. This is a transition for all the parks. Some are collecting a bit more than others depending on staffing. It will take a while to get everything rolling.�
A recent press release from the Parks Commission stated, �Although revenue from this fee will not solve the long-term funding of state parks, it will hold the park system together.�
Depending on the system�s funding picture, the daily permit fee may be decreased or rescinded. The annual permit of $50 is discounted from $70 through 2005. Parking and watercraft launch permits are interchangeable.
The state park system receives less than one quarter of one percent of the state budget. Nationally, Washington ranks fourth in day-use attendance, with an estimated 46 million people a year visiting 125 state parks, and bringing in $1.1 billion. However, the state ranks 47th in state budget expenditure per visitor, spending about 78 cents, compared to the national average of $1.96.
To learn more about the state parks and this new fee, call 360/902-8844 or visit www.parks.gov. The vehicle parking permit can be also be purchased here.