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Pass fees come to Whidbey Island state park users

It will cost to use Whidbey Island’s state parks and other state recreational lands beginning this summer.

Gov. Christine Gregoire created a financial lifeline for Washington’s parks by signing the Discover Pass legislation into law May 12.

As of July 1, the “Discover Pass” will be required for vehicles entering into recreation lands and water-access sites managed by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

This includes boat launches, campgrounds, wildlife and natural areas, trails and state parks. The pass will cost $30 a year per vehicle or $10 for a day-use pass.

Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt said the new legislation is vital to the area.

“This is not project money. It is basic operating money,” Hartt said. “Without the pass, we would have to close many, if not nearly all, of the state parks, due to the fact we are basically no longer receiving any tax money. The Discover Pass money replaces tax appropriations. So this will pay salaries, utility costs, facility repairs, the nuts and bolts of the park.”

Hartt said from 2003 to 2005, Deception Pass had a parking fee similar to the Discover Pass in place, and it brought in more than a half million dollars each year. Unpopular with the public, the Legislature rescinded the fee, only to reinstate something similar due to the state’s present financial crisis.

“It is essential that we keep our recreation areas open to the public,” Gregoire said.

Beyond Deception Pass, the state parks on Whidbey that will be affected by the change include Fort Casey, Keystone, Joseph Whidbey, Fort Ebey and South Whidbey.

The Discover Pass will first be available for purchase in mid-June at about 600 sporting goods and retail stores that sell hunting and fishing licenses. The Discover Pass or day-use pass must be visibly displayed in the front windshield of any motor vehicle.

Some people who already have certain types of fishing and hunting licenses, registered state park campers and others may be exempt from some Discover Pass requirements. For details, visit www.discoverpass.wa.gov.

Hartt encourages people to buy the pass and support Whidbey’s natural beauty.

“This is a new program that seeks to find a funding solution for our parks, without relying on taxes,” Hartt said.

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