Parking fee dropped at state parks

State park visitors will no longer have to dig in their pockets for a parking fee with the passage of a new law revoking the $5 permit.

“Parking fees were pretty controversial,” said state Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-Shelton), a sponsor of the bill which put the new law into effect. “There’s a good understanding the public doesn’t want a park fee.”

The bill was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire on March 20 in the 2006 legislative session and put into effect by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (which manages the 120 state parks) at the beginning of this month. Although the parking fee no longer exists, the $5 daily Natural Investment permit is still required for watercraft launches and trailer dumps.

Those who purchased an annual parking permit that is still valid and don’t plan to use it for watercraft launches or trailer dumps may request a refund of the months remaining on the permit, according to state parks. Refund requests will be accepted until June 30.

Only three years in existence, the parking fee was implemented on Jan. 1, 2003 and, according to state parks, brought in about $11 million from 2003 to 2005. In 2005, the money was then used for basic operations.

Upon hearing the news of the removal of the parking fee, Illahee State Park Ranger Steve Kendall said he had mixed feelings.

“On one hand it’s a good thing, on the other hand it’s not,” he said. “It will allow access to more financially challenged people and bring back use to the park, but then it has an adverse affect of increased vandalism.”

He explained that prior to 2003 and the implementation of the parking fee there were more incidents of vandalism at the park which included signs being pulled out, fences being broken and graffiti. But attendance also took a dip, dropping about 25 percent after 2003, according to Kendall.

“We took away the fees because public outcry was high,” Haigh said.

Because the collected parking fees were used to keep the state parks open and maintained, the Legislature provided one-time replacement funds. Next year, state parks will have the option of requesting additional replacement funds. Lawmakers have vowed to find a secure, long-term funding source during the 2007 legislative session.

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