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To park or not to park?

With the ringing in of the new year also comes the adding on of new fees. The Washington State Parks Commission began its systemwide parking fee Jan. 1.

Parks in Central Kitsap affected include Scenic Beach and Illahee State

Parks.

A daily parking permit costs $5 and an annual permit, which will be available online (www.parks.wa.gov) Jan. 15, costs $50. Permits may also be purchased at the parks themselves. People who fail to pay will be fined $66.

Virginia Painter, state parks spokeswoman said fees are being collected at the parks’ main gates by park rangers and pay boxes known as “iron rangers.”

“We hope that people will be honorable and do the right thing,” she said when it comes to leaving five bucks in the box. A small line greeted parks officials in the state park’s Olympia headquarters Monday morning to purchase permits. Most of them were former and current parks employees showing their support for the fee.

In June, the commission approved an emergency vehicle parking fee for selected state parks, with a $5 daily vehicle parking permit and a $40 annual vehicle parking permit at Potholes, Maryhill, Spring Creek Hatchery, Beacon Rock, Horsethief Lake and Doug’s Beach State Parks.

Due to state budget cuts, the fees were approved systemwide in September 2002.

“We’ve got to find the money to keep things together,” Painter said.

The fees are expected to raise about $3 million with first priority being improving park maintenance and services.

According to a survey asking people if they would support a parking fee about 60 percent said they would rather pay a fee than see parks close. Parks officials understand the fee will take people some time to get used to the idea of paying a fee.

At Illahee State Park people are asked to self-register as they would for camping or using the boat launch, said Tom Riggs, park ranger. A handful of annual permits have been sold at the park, he added.

Riggs couldn’t say if it’s been the recent wet weather, the park fee or just the time of year, but the parking lot there has been pretty empty. Park officials expect a drop off in visitors at first, but are hopeful people will return to the parks. The Potholes, which saw a 50 percent attendance drop, is already rebounding, Painter said.

In 2001 Scenic Beach had about 188,000 visits and Illahee had 290,000.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission manages a system of 125 parks and several recreation programs, including boating, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The 89-year-old park system receives nearly 48 million visits a year.

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