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Visitors adjust to paying at parks

A new presence is making itself known in state parks throughout Washington. This park addition — the parking lot pay station — is still in its debut season, and critics and the public are still determining their judgements and sentiments.

Locals and visitors alike say they have mixed feelings on the implementation of the $5 daily parking fee. Common responses are apathy toward the fee itself or toward what it covers, ignorance toward the fact that the fee exists, a sense of injustice at having to pay another fee, or simple submission in paying the fee for the greater good.

“I think that if we want to maintain the parks, we kind of have to have the fee,” Eugene Thrasher of Langley said on a recent visit to Deception Pass State Park.

Thrasher said he does not understand why some people try anything they can think of to get out of paying the parking fee.

“People still don’t respect the facilities,” Thrasher said. “But, you pay everywhere else you go.”

Don Jones of Stanwood, who was camping at Deception Pass, said he disagrees with the new parking fee.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Jones said. “the state government already has too much overhead, and then they threaten the public with closing the parks.”

Jones said the saddest part is that many families cannot afford to pay a fee every time they want to go to the beach or watch a sunset. He said when the state implemented the fee in January, he and his family ceased spending Sunday afternoons in the park.

Jones did agree that it is nice, though, to have a park to visit.

Virginia Painter, public affairs administrator for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, said that for the past ten years park budgets have had to stretch further and become more restricted.

Painter said that state park use has risen in the last ten years, and with the tightness of funds and the increase of use, the rate of park deterioration far exceeded that of park improvements.

With the imminent danger of having to loose several parks to lack of maintenance or environmental damage, the state’s Parks and Recreation Commission decided to take action. The commission implemented the vehicle parking fee in all state parks throughout Washington last January.

Presently, the daily fee for a parking pass is $5 per car. The commission had originally set the fee at $7 per car, but decided to give the public a few years to get used to the idea. The fee will stay at $5 until the end of 2005 and will then change to $7 in 2006.

Painter said until now, state park day users have not had to pay a usage fee. She added, however, that this group of park users makes up approximately 94 percent of park visitors.

“We have to collect the fee. It is part of what we will depend on to function,” Painter said. “The only responsible thing to do is to ask the majority of people who use the parks to help pay for them.”

Painter said the goal for the money earned through the parking fee is to recycle it back into the parks it was collected from, in the form of additions and improvements to parks.

Bill Overby, park manager of Deception Pass State Park, said he understands why the commission decided to implement the vehicle parking fee.

“The rate of economic inflation and deterioration of facilities caused them to have to take action.” Overby said.

He said many people understand the reason for the fee and are willing to pay.

“People love these parks and want to see them accessible and open,” Overby said.

He said others, however, are still either not used to paying the fee or are unaware that they are required to pay.

“It’s taken a while for the public to catch on,” Overby said.

He said roving park rangers patrol the parking lots, but they are not meter maids. He did say, however, that when a park visitor gets a parking fee notice, they do need to pay the parking fee or they will receive a $118 fine for failure to comply.

He said that since the incorporation of the fee is so recent, park rangers are still in an educational mode. First they will assume a visitor did not know about the fee or chose not to pay it because they did not know why they should. After leaving a fee notice, Overby said he expects most people will pay the fee.

Painter said rangers know if they do not collect the fee their park might not necessarily suffer but that the lack of funds could affect the fate of another state park.

“The reality of our budget system is that some parks make more money than they need and others don’t make enough. Funds are shared between parks,” Painter said.

Painter said the commission is trying to create a system that allows families on a low income, war veterans and disabled persons to apply for park passes through a qualification system. She also said individuals who want to save money and visit the parks frequently should purchase a $50 annual parking pass, which is good in all Washington State parks.

Overby said, to assist park visitors and park rangers, the commission also hopes to install cash card machines and upgrade pay stations to ticket dispensers.

Brett Bayne, a park ranger at Coupeville’s Fort Casey, said that even with the new parking fee, park attendance has increased throughout the past year.

“Folks are pretty good about the fee,” Bayne said. “They know we have to keep the parks open somehow.”

Bayne said the rangers at Fort Casey are also in educational mode.

“We’ve placed hundreds of warnings,” he said. “Many folks are not aware of the fee, but if they fail to heed that, they are contacted or evicted.”

Bayne said the park has a 10-minute grace period where people can get out to stretch, take a few pictures or use the restroom.

“Were not just right at the gate,” Bayne said. “Most park systems have a fee grace period for users to decide if they want to stay or not.”

He also said no fee is charged to bikers or hikers coming into the park.

The day parking fees appears to be here to stay. Deception Pass’s Overby said, “The paramount thing in this park is parks are for people. We want to be able to offer a clean and functional park, and the fees help us in doing so.”

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