Wait... Is the Discover Pass Really $35?
This is why you always read the fine print.
The $30 Discover Pass, the vehicle pass you will need come July 1 to access State Parks, DNR lands and WDFW lands, is not really $30. Well, it is. But there are only a few places you can purchase it for that amount. Most of the options for purchasing the Discover Pass price it at $35.
Vendors are charged face value ($30 each) to purchase the Discover Passes. Because of credit card processing fees and other handling charges, any vendor that would sell the pass for just $30 would be losing money - about $3 per pass by my calculations. To entice vendors to sell the Discover Pass, the state is allowing them to charge an extra $2 per pass and add a ten percent upcharge to cover those costs. That takes an annual pass to $35 and a daily pass to $11.50. So when you purchase a Discover Pass from a vendor, State Parks and recreation lands get $30 of it, and the vendors get $5 for their troubles.
This is different than how the $30 Northwest Forest Pass works: vendors purchase these annual passes for $27 and are allowed to sell them for $30. The government pockets $27 for recreation programs and the vendors get $3 to cover the costs to them.
On the one hand, we're glad that parks and recreation lands will be getting a full $30 per pass. They are in desperate need of funding. On the other hand, we're surprised and feel the hiking community was not told the fine print. WTA supported a $30 Discover Pass, and until these things were being sold a week ago, that is the amount listed in all of the promotional materials for the Discover Pass. Since then, I've noticed that the official Discover Pass website has updated their information with the "new" prices.
I want to know what happened here, and I'll bet a lot of you do, too. Should the legislation have been drafted differently to guarantee a purchase price of $30? Did the budget folks not take the vendor costs into account, necessitating these late-breaking price adjustments? Is the Department of Fish and Wildlife, who is taking the lead on implementation, misinterpreting the law - or are they simply following the model for fishing and hunting licenses that includes additional vendor fees?
In the meantime, you'll need a Discover Pass on July 1 to visit Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resource lands and Washington Fish and Wildlife lands. I did a quick check of a couple of vendors - Fred Meyers and Big 5 - and both are selling the annual pass for $35. So is the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife online store.
Then I wondered - can you even find it for face value, or at the very least, less than $35?
Perhaps. Staffed Washington State Parks will be selling the Discover Pass, and I'm trying to determine what they will be charging and exactly which state parks are considered "staffed." It's possible that Discover Passes will be sold for $30 at these parks, but they still have credit card charges to consider, so I'm not sure. The same goes for agency headquarters and regional offices.
By October, hikers will be able to purchase an annual Discover Pass when renewing our license tabs. It's my understanding that this will be $30, but unfortunately for most folks, the timing will be off. My tabs come due in November, but I'll already have my Discover pass by then - I'm buying it this week, in fact!
When we have more answers, we'll pass along what we know. In the meantime, what are your thoughts about the $30 Discover Pass that costs $35?