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April 20, 2011 at 1:50 PM

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$30 annual fee for state parks passes Senate

Posted by Queenie Wong

The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that lawmakers argue will keep state parks and other recreation lands open by charging visitors new user fees.

Under SB 5622, Washington state park goers would need a $30 annual Discover pass or a $10 day-use permit to bring motor vehicle into more than 100 developed state parks. The pass would also apply to accessing state lands owned or managed by the Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The bill passed the Senate with a 33-14 vote and advanced to the House of Representatives.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, the lead sponsor of the bill, urged lawmakers on the Senate floor to vote in favor of the bill to keep the state’s recreational lands open during harsh economic times.

“It’s a decision between raising these fees or closing state parks, closing DNR recreational areas, closing fish and wildlife recreation areas,” said Ranker.

State parks would need to earn about $64 million in new revenue during the upcoming biennium or risk closure under all three budget proposals being considered in Olympia, state park officials said. The majority of the money generated from the new fees would go toward supporting state parks under the bill.

Lawmakers who voted against the bill say new user fees would be unpopular among residents and negatively impact low-income families.

In 2006, lawmakers repealed a $5 day-use parking fee after attendance at state parks dropped by about 16 percent throughout the three years the fee was in place.

“There’s something that has to be free to the citizens of the state of Washington and I think it’s using our great state parks system,” said Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

Other lawmakers noted they would vote for the bill because it contains certain exceptions and the passes and permits are voluntary to purchase.

For example, residents who volunteer at the recreation sites would receive a complimentary pass if they clocked in 24 hours of service per year. Hunters and fishers would also be issued a vehicle access pass for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lands when they purchase their hunting or fishing license.

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