Visitors to Washington's state parks can expect to start paying for access this summer under a bill sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday.
Visitors to Washington’s state parks can expect to start paying for access this summer under a bill sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday.
The measure, which cleared the House of Representatives 55-42, creates a $30 annual Discover Pass and a $10 day-use permit for vehicles to enter state parks and other recreational lands owned or managed by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The bill was approved by the state Senate on Wednesday.
People who volunteer at the recreation sites would receive complimentary passes if they clocked in 24 hours of service per year. Individuals who hold certain hunting and fishing licenses or various other permits also would be exempt.
Gregoire is pleased that the bill — SB 5622 — has passed but intends to review it before signing, according to her staff.
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State park officials say charging visitors the new user fee is the only option to keep the parks open. Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, the majority of the money raised would go toward state parks.
Lawmakers plan to wean the park system off taxpayer dollars amid a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall. The system would need to earn about $64 million in new revenue during the upcoming biennium to prevent raising other fees or the closing of some state parks. If the bill hadn’t passed, or if Gregoire doesn’t sign it, most state parks would close, according to Virginia Painter, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
“[The bill] fills the hole by having folks that utilize the parks help pay for the parks,” said Rep Zack Hudgins, D -Tukwila, on the House floor Thursday.
Other lawmakers argued that the parks should remain free to the public because taxpayers already have paid their share by buying and maintaining state recreational lands for years.
It’s still unclear whether enough people will buy the passes to keep the more than 100 developed state parks open. The state estimates that the annual pass and permit will generate about $53.9 million per biennium for state parks, which is still about $10 million short of what the state park system projects it will need.
“Some of it is going to be a waiting game, and we’re going to see how it goes,” Painter said. “This is the first step, and now we have to figure out how to operate,” she added.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.
Queenie Wong: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org