EDITORIAL: Repeal day-use park fee

One bit of business the Washington State Legislature should attend to when it convenes later this month is the repeal of the day use state park parking fee foisted upon this state’s citizenry last January.

When the fee was adopted last legislative session, budgeters estimated it would bring in $5 million the first year. It looks like revenue will be short of the goal, but that’s not the point. The day use fee is unfair and unjustified, and it’s time our legislators stepped up to fully and honestly fund our park system.

Park system public relations people claim the public has been receptive of the $5 day use fee. Naturally they would say so, because that’s what their bosses want to hear. But our own instincts and comments from friends on Whidbey Island tell us something entirely different: Locals aren’t using the state parks nearly as much as they once did, and most resent having to pay $5 just to walk on a publicly owned beach or through some publicly owned trees. Innumerable plans to visit the parks have been canceled, and many family get-togethers moved elsewhere because of the $5 tab awaiting all park visitors. Others choose to park their vehicles outside the park boundaries, resulting in cars littering rural roadways and endangering the public.

The fee is also a pain for the park rangers to enforce, although they won’t say so for fear of alienating their bosses. Additionally, it hurts the image of the park ranger. Once considered a friend whose job it is to keep the parks a pleasant place to visit, the park ranger is now just another enforcer of petty state laws. For the first time, we’re not pleased to see a park ranger walking in our direction.

The fee also removes the one direct benefit most of us receive from paying state taxes. Most of us don’t receive welfare checks, deal with the criminal justice system or attend public schools. It was nice to be able to drive into one of the island’s five state parks and enjoy some time with nature at no extra cost. Now, the parks are simply another place for the state to gouge its taxpaying citizens.

Legislators should make it a top priority to find the money to make sure our parks are properly maintained and improved. It’s scandalous how they have been allowed to deteriorate in recent years. Last session, the legislature hiked the gas tax 5 cents per gallon and gave away $3.5 billion in tax breaks to Boeing. Don’t tell us that you can’t find a way to pay for state parks without a day-use fee.

Whidbey Islanders concerned about this issue might want to tell their legislators face-to-face before the next session begins. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and Reps. Barry Sehlin and Barbara Bailey will be in Oak Harbor Saturday morning, Jan. 10, at Henderson’s restaurant for a 9:30 breakfast meeting with the public. If you want to eat with the legislators, call the League of Women Voters at 679-2299 and pay $15. It doesn’t cost anything to stop by and tell them what you think.

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