Tuesday, February 22, 2011

State Lands Access Fee Evolves

Washington legislators continue to craft proposals to keep state lands open and accessible for recreation despite the lack of general funds. At the heart of bills in the Senate (SB 5622) and the House (HB 1796) is a three-agency Discover Pass for vehicle access to State Parks, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) lands. The annual pass would cost $30 per vehicle or $10 for a day-pass. The Senate Bill 5622 recently moved out of the Natural Resources & Marine Waters committee with the following improvements:

  • Volunteers on state lands will receive a complimentary pass after 24 hours of service.
  • State Parks may establish up to 12 days a year when entry to parks is free.
  • Registered campers will not require a day pass or annual pass.
  • People purchasing hunting or fishing licenses can purchase a $7 vehicle access fee for activities exclusive to DFW lands.

Under the governor’s current budget proposal, general funds appropriated to State Parks will be cut by 2/3 in the next two-year biennium. The outlook for the 2013-15 biennium is a State Parks department entirely cut-off from general funds, and the prospects for access and recreation programs at DNR and DFW is equally dire. The need for user-generated funding has never been greater for agencies that manage state lands.

The Discover Pass strives to raise $71 million in the first two years. With the lion’s share of visitors, State Parks would receive 85% of funds generated by the Discover Pass, with the remaining 15% divided between DNR and DFW. While there are those who are skeptical that Washington can maintain state lands on user-generated funds alone, the pass is an important step in the right direction and offers an alternative to massive closures on state lands.

If you value the opportunities for recreation on our state lands, please take a minute to tell your legislators that you support the Discover Pass!


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I don't support paying to set foot on our/my public lands.
These lands should be supported out of the general funds, our taxes.
Our "public" lands are not just for those with the disposable income. They are for everyone.
Seen too many cars leave a trailhead, bummed kids and parents, but unwillng or able to pay $10 just for a day hike on public land.
- respectfully submitted,
paul w

Sarah said...

Thanks, Paul, for your comment!

I am not a fan of pay-to-play fee regimes, either, and I agree with your assertion that parks should be open and available as a public resource. However, the budget crisis is real and park closures have already been happening. As the state withdraws general funds from State Parks and the recreation programs at DNR and WDFW, there must be a revenue source. Opt-out donations on vehicle tabs are not providing the needed revenue for State Parks, and the governor and legislature is adamant that the general funds cannot sustain the agency.

It’s also important to note that the work isn’t simply over by introducing a new pass. As the economy rebounds and general funds grow again, we will need to advocate for the state to take ownership of its public lands and contribute to their management. The onerous should not fall on the recreationist alone to upkeep the parks that provide so many benefits to wildlife, ecosystems, and people, beyond a place to play.