Entering state parks may cost you

"On Thursday, members of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission may decide to start charging a fee to enter state parks in Washington. The charge, which would be called a day-use parking fee, will be used to maintain and improve park facilities. Whidbey has five state parks: Deception Pass, Joseph Whidbey, Fort Ebey, Fort Casey and South Whidbey. All except Joseph Whidbey feature overnight camping.The fee being considered would fall somewhere between $2 and $7 and might vary from park to park, said Anne Hersley, spokeswoman for the commission. She said Washington State is the only mainland state west of the Mississippi that does not charge a day-use fee for its parks.Hersley said the fees could give state parks about $2 million in net revenue each year. She admits that that will only make a small dent in the what is really needed. It's estimated that state parks currently have a $40 million backlog of maintenance projects waiting to get done.It's not going to solve the problem, but it's something, said Hersley. Right now we're in a downward spiral. She explained that many buildings, trails and other facilities in the 87-year-old park system are in desperate need of repair, replacement or improvement.At the moment, overnight campers pay most of the cost of park operation. According to the commission, overnight camping fees make up 70 percent of total revenue taken in by the state parks. But overnighters only account for about 10 percent of park visitors. Commission officials say the new fee would more fairly distribute the costs of park operation.Hersley said state parks receive about a quarter of a percent of the state budget and there are few options open to them get more money. With the invalidation of Initiative 695 by the state Supreme Court in October, agencies are now able to consider fee increases without having to get voter approval. Details on how the fees will be charged, who will pay and where will be worked out at a later meeting. The state manages 125 parks which host about 46 million visits per year.The fee could be in place starting in January of 2002. Anyone who wishes to comment on the possible fees can do so in person at the commission meeting Thursday at 1 p.m. at St. Edward State Park, 14445 Juanita Drive Northeast in Kenmore. "

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