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State parks on the chopping block?
Sequim Bay State park is one of more than 100 state parks likely to close if alternative revenue isn’t found. A bill proposed by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege would implement use fees to pay for the parks’ operations. Sequim Gazette photo by Amanda Winters
by AMANDA WINTERS
Washington State lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow fees for access to state land in an effort to keep it from closing to the public altogether.
House Bill 1796, proposed by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, would charge $30 for an annual pass and $10 for a day pass for access to Washington State Parks, Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources land. State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, proposes the same in Senate Bill 5622.
Van De Wege said that unless user fees are implemented, state parks, including Sequim Bay State Park, are sure to close. Only six of more than a hundred state parks are self-sufficient.
All three state land agencies have seen sharp declines in their budgets for maintenance, improvements and enforcement for recreation, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission officials said in a news release.
“With state parks moving off general fund tax support, we need a new way to fund recreation and a user-pay model seems to be the fairest — those who use parks pay for them,” State Parks Director Don Hoch said.
Gov. Christine Gregoire’s proposed budget eliminates all state general fund support for recreation on state lands and Van De Wege said there aren’t many other options.
“That’s $71 million we need to make up or those facilities would just be closed,” Van De Wege said.
The $30 annual pass could be purchased anywhere hunting and fishing licenses are sold, as well as with drivers’ licenses and car registration. The pass, which is designed to be affixed to cars, would gain users access to state parks, Fish and Wildlife and DNR land, he said.
“I really hate doing the day-pass part but nobody would buy an annual pass if we didn’t have some sort of a daily use fee,” Van De Wege said of the $10 day-use pass.
People who walk or bike into the state land would not be charged, he said.
Even if the bill goes through, if the passes aren’t popular enough, it still is likely some state parks that aren’t self-sufficient would close — including Sequim Bay State Park, he said.
While not self-sufficient, Fort Worden State Park probably would be able to continue operating despite losing its 10-percent subsidy from the state, he said.
“I think people in our district value their state parks,” he said. “They value the public access we have and the natural beauty our district has and I think they will support this pass. I hope they do and the rest of the state does, too, so we can keep these parks open.”
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.