Camping comes at a new price for Central Kitsap parks

Scenic Beach State Park will require the Discover Pass starting July 1. - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
Scenic Beach State Park will require the Discover Pass starting July 1.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Michael Henry loves to camp, usually once or twice a month, which is why he’s concerned about new rate increases.

“Camping used to be the nice cheap recreational trip with your family, but it’s changing,” said Henry, who recently moved from Virginia to Silverdale to be with his daughter. “It’s terrible that it reached this point.”

Henry camped out with his family Tuesday afternoon at the Scenic Beach State Park in Seabeck. As a new resident of the state, he was unaware of the new Discover Pass, which goes into effect July 1.

In addition to the new requirements, campers will see a $1 increase in overnight rates from summer 2010. The rates last increased in 2009, also up $1 from the previous summer.

Henry previously camped out at the Poconos in Pennsylvania, but his visits decreased when the resort implemented new rules and increased rates. Now, he’s facing similar changes in Washington state. His plan is to make the best of it – for now.

“You do what you have to do sometimes,” he said. “In the end, it’s not all that bad to support the parks, but I could see it deterring other campers.”

The Discover Pass is a paid vehicle access permit that will fund state parks and recreation lands. The required pass will cost $30 a year per vehicle or $10 for single-day usage.

Campers at state parks are required to show the pass by July 1. Starting in mid-June, the Discover Pass will be on sale. A fine of $99 is issued for not displaying the pass.

According to the state parks website, the revenue from the Discover Pass is split three ways. State Parks earns 84 percent, while the Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources departments each receive 8 percent of the share.

Daniel Yorkston, the park manager at the park in Seabeck where Henry and his family were camping, said Monday that he’s not concerned by the increase in costs to attend the site. If anything, the news was welcoming, he added.

“People are more excited right now,” Yorkston said. “The new pass allows campers to have ownership of their park. By having an annual pass, they’ll be encouraged to take advantage of it.”

The Seabeck park has 50 campsites and large grassy lawns overlooking the Hood Canal. Campers can also enjoy volleyball courts and access to the beach, which spans 1,500 feet.

Even with recent rain storms, he added that the site has remained relatively busy.

As for the Discover Pass, Yorkston believes it’s a good idea to help preserve access to parks amidst continuous budget cuts with a new fee.

“A lot of people from Bremerton, Silverdale and other towns are still going to head out on a sunny day,” he added. “We don’t anticipate a slow down in attendance.”

Meanwhile, campsite rates have already increased as of May 13 for the peak season, which runs through Sept. 15.

For “primitive campsites,” those without facilities or services, rates remain at $12 a night, but the standard campsite rate increased from the $19 to $24.

The partial-utility cost was raised from $25 to $33, and full-utility usage rose from $26 to $35.

Despite the fact that it will cost campers more this year to enjoy the woods and visit the beach, Illahee State Park Manager Steve Kendall said the number of campers should remain consistent with 2010.

However, the manager of the East Bremerton park added that the site has seen a decrease in general attendance for the past decade. He still thinks new rates or fees will have only a marginal effect.

“Compared to 15 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see a half-million people here,” Kendall said. “Now, we’re near about 200,000, but people are still going to camp out, that won’t change much.”

Illahee State Park is currently closed for construction and won’t be open by Memorial Day. The site, which normally includes 23 standard sites with fire pits and grills, is using membrane bioreactor bugs instead of a sewer system to purify the water. The bugs filtrate sludge by eating away the particles from the water.

Kendall hopes to have the park open by June.

While waiting for Illahee to open for the summer, residents in Central Kitsap and Bremerton will have other options.

Additional state parks include the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, Green Mountain State Forest and the Tahuya State Forest.

Green Mountain includes two trailheads with its campsites. The Wildcat and Gold Creek trails are each open year-round.

The Tahuya State Forest includes Camp Spillman, the Kammenga and River Horse sites, which are all open for general overnight parking.

Beach access is also provided at Aldrich, Howell, Twin and Robbins lakes. The Mission Creek and Elfendahl Pass trailheads run through the forest for hikers.

The Discover Pass can be purchased at any one of about 600 sporting goods or retail stores in the state.

It is also available online or by calling (866) 320-9933.

For more information about Kitsap parks, visit the official website at

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