Editorial: Better to pay than lose parks

You can lead a taxpayer to an optional new fee but you can’t make them pay, so it will be interesting to see how Whidbey Islanders and visitors to our fair shores react to the state’s new Discover Pass.

The Legislature enacted the pricey pass to keep the parks open during the present financial crisis, and the Discover Pass takes effect beginning July 1. If you want to visit Deception Pass or any of the island’s other four state parks, it will cost you $10. A more palatable alternative is to pay $30 for a Discover Pass good for the entire year. But either way, people may think twice before visiting our beautiful state parks.

Many of us were strongly opposed the state parks day use fee adopted several years ago and then rescinded during better economic times. It was only a few dollars, but as an experiment it showed that people will pay to use our state parks. Deception Pass State Park brought in more than half a million dollars a year annually from 2003 to 2005, according to Jack Hartt, park manager.

The new fee is considerably more for a single visit, but Hartt emphasizes that it’s a necessity to keep the parks open. With state education, health care and programs for the needy in financial crisis, operating funds for the parks were slashed. Without the Discover Pass, many parks would simply have been closed.

Presumably some summer fun will be shifted to the county, parks district and port district parks, which have no day use fee. But the county doesn’t even have the money to pick up garbage at its parks. Perhaps a day use fee should be considered to help fund all our parks, not just the state parks. If we want to maintain our parks, fees may be unavoidable as taxpayers balk at general tax increases.

The new Discover Pass fee won’t even be noticed by many islanders. The pass will be included with the purchase of certain hunting and fishing licenses and access passes to Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. Since they’re already paying for access, the reasoning is that others who use state lands should pay as well.

We still don’t like it when the public has to pay to use its own parks, but we can face fiscal reality. And the reality is that without a new source of funding, we would lose many of our cherished parks. A $30 annual Discover Pass isn’t too much to pay to avoid that bleak outcome.



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