Soundoff: Time to cut state parks fee

Enjoying a budget surplus of nearly $1.5 billion, the state Legislature can easily afford to do away with the wildly unpopular $5 daily parking fee for vehicles in Washington State Parks.

The fee brings in approximately $13 million a year, which has been used for needed infrastructure projects long neglected by our inattentive legislators. The parking fee was instigated during the budget crisis of 2002-2003, much to the disgruntlement of Whidbey Island residents.

Like most Washington residents, islanders felt admission to state parks should be free. It’s the one nice thing most taxpayers receive for the hefty portion of their salaries that go to the state. The Legislature has been preaching growth for years because of the revenue it produces, and yet has refused to use any of that money to upgrade and expand our popular system of state parks.

Many taxpayers have $5 if they want to visit a park, but stay away as a matter of principle. Drive past Joseph Ebey State Park on North Whidbey on a sunny day. A small roadside pullout is crammed with cars, while the park itself is virtually empty. People avoiding the $5 charge create a traffic hazard there and elsewhere on the island. In addition, there are many low income families who can’t afford to visit a park more than a few times every summer. People should be encouraged to use the outdoors more, not penalized for dragging their kids away from their video games.

Park attendance has decreased from 45.4 million visitors statewide in 2001 to only 38.1 million in 2004, at a time when the state’s population is booming. Park rangers used to enjoy an image of being kind and helpful to visitors; now they’re as popular as meter maids.

Our 10th District legislators, Reps. Barbara Bailey and Chris Strow and Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, all say they favor eliminating the parking fee. However, they’re a bit finicky about where to find the money to make up for this action, and this hesitancy could shoot down the growing movement to give the parks back to the people.

You don’t have to find another funding source. Use a tiny portion of the budget surplus to fully fund state parks and swear to keep such funding a priority in the future. The people don’t have high-paid lobbyists like lawyers, doctors, businesses and educators do, but they do vote and they’ll likely remember this in the fall of 2006.

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