Hikers to See More User Fees
DNR lands like Mount Si may soon require a user fee that would provide stable and dedicated funding. How much should we pay? Photo by T. Hiblar.
Should hikers pay to help manage the state lands they hike on? If so, what are you willing to pay? If you hike Mount Si or Rattlesnake Mountain or Umtanum Canyon, you might want to speak up.
The truth is, we already do pay--through taxes. But times are tough, and tax revenue is way down. The state legislature will convene in early January to face a $3.1 billion hole in the state's budget - the third consecutive year of deficits in the billions of dollars. And so once again, everything from State Parks to state healthcare is on the chopping block.
You may recall that Department of Natural Resources (DNR) lands like Mount Si were threatened with closure last year, and State Parks the year before that. WTA and hikers like you spoke out, loudly and passionately, about the importance of these lands to our health and quality of life. We worked with legislators to find short-term solutions to keep trails open for the year. Since then, the budget hole has deepened.
The news is dire. WTA's advocacy director, Jonathan Guzzo, has told me in no uncertain terms that the likliehood of DNR receiving the general fund money they depend on to manage their recreation lands is dismal. I had to let that sink in for a minute. Because that means that Mount Si will close its gates, and so will Lake Spokane, and Rattlesnake Mountain, and a whole lot of other DNR lands we hike on.
State land management agencies knew this was coming. The Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have responded with legislation that would institute a user fee system known as the Explore Washington Pass. The pass would replace WDFW's vehicle permit, and would provide access to both DNR and WDFW lands.
Here's the rub. The user fee being proposed is per person, not per vehicle. An annual Explore Washington Pass is $40. Going to Mount Si for just one day? That'll cost you $10, per person.
WTA believes wholeheartedly that these state lands need stable, dedicated sources of funding. We think a reasonable user fee system is a good approach. The idea of setting up a user fee system grew out of the recommendations of the Sustainable Recreation Working Group, which included WTA’s former executive director Elizabeth Lunney. They recommended that DNR gather input from stakeholders to create a public lands pass to provide sustainable funding. Legislation that would have set up and funded that process stalled during the last session, but DNR moved ahead with a less formal input-gathering process on user fee legislation.
WTA and other recreation stakeholders have been apprised of the legislation, and gave DNR feedback on their proposals. We have some strong concerns with what has come out of their process. As I mentioned, the bill would require every adult who uses DNR or WDFW lands to carry an access pass, and for every vehicle at a DNR or WDFW trailhead to have a parking pass prominently displayed. The pass would cost $10 for a day, $15 for two days, $20 for three days, or $40 for an Annual Pass. That’s a big leap from the Forest Service's fee system, the Northwest Forest Pass, which only requires a vehicle parking hang tag and costs $5 for a one-day pass, or $30 for an annual pass.
What do you think? Is the user fee proposal from DNR and WDFW reasonable, or does it go too far? Is it fair to charge per person rather than per carload? Will you use DNR and WDFW lands for hiking if the fee proposal passes next year? How will this user fee be enforced?
DNR wants input from hikers because we're a large and active constituency. They want to know our concerns and get our ideas for solutions. In addition to your comments here, you can contact them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's our hope that DNR can keep critical landscapes open while charging a reasonable access fee to help pay for it. Please share your thoughts and help move us closer to legislation that works for both DNR and hikers.