News

$5 fee turning park users away

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

Visits to Federal Way’s two state parks — Saltwater and Dash Point — have taken a substantial downturn in 2003, according to numbers recently released by the state Parks and Recreation Commission.

Officials are attributing the drop to the new $5-per-visit, or $50 a year, vehicle permit required to use the state’s 120 parks during the day. The commission began charging the fee in January after a December 2002 vote.

The numbers, which detail visits from January through June, at Dash Point took the most drastic fall of the two Federal Way parks. Visitors to Dash Point were cut nearly in half from 2002 to this year.

From January 2002 to June 2002, 295,259 people visited Dash Point on a day-use basis, compared to the 157,050 that went through the gates during the same months this year. Attendance from June through August will be available next month.

The numbers are less severe at Saltwater State Park — 239,159 visitors from January through June 2002, compared to 198,634 this year. More than 35 other states charge day visitors in some way, and Washington is the last western state to collect fees. Some states have per-person park user fees and others charge by the vehicle.

“When we implemented them, we knew visitors would go down 30 percent,” said Thuy Luu-Beems, a spokeswoman for the Washington Parks Commission. “But they leveled off after three years (in other states). And that is something we are anticipating and understand.”

Officials discussed charging parking fees for about 10 years, but held off as long as they could, Luu-Beems said. State budget cuts in the parks system necessitated the move. The budget for 2003-05 required state parks to raise approximately $12.5 million in revenue through the new fees and increases.

“(In years past) we were expected to make about 30 percent of our own money and the other 70 percent would come out of the general fund,” Luu-Beems said. “(This year) we only received 64 percent from the general fund, and we had to make the rest. And the way we bring in revenue is from camping fees and vehicle parking.”

For many years, the commission said it would only charge parking fees if the money went directly to actual park improvements. However, with the budget situation as it is, it’s unclear if state parks will be able to make those improvements. The commission now recognizes that it needs to use the money just for maintenance and operation of the parks. The priority, however, remains making park improvements whenever possible, according to officials.

Expenses include rangers and the various things they do, from managing parks to law enforcement — as well as seasonal employees — any interpretive programs, stewardship efforts, taking care of grounds and historic buildings, monitoring sewer and water systems, campground and other maintenance, public information, equipment to keep parks operating and planning and construction.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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