California Ups State Park Entry, Camping Fees

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August 12, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Stung by budget cuts, California's state park system will increase day use parking fees by $2 to $5, and camping fees by $10 to $21 a night, state parks director Ruth Coleman announced Tuesday (Aug. 11).

"In these dire economic times, we can no longer afford to keep our fees at their current levels," Coleman said. "By charging more, we will be able to keep more parks open and preserved for these and future generations."

However, although the fee increase may help keep some parks open, the state continues to study closing as many as 100 parks, following historic cuts to its budget by state lawmakers last month, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Exactly how much more it will cost to enjoy each state park, beach or forest won't be known until the department releases its final list Monday. The fees will then go into effect immediately.

Roy Stearns, a spokesman for the parks department, said that every one of the 279 state parks that collects fees – including the towering redwoods at Big Basin, Angel Island, Mount Diablo and state beaches from Santa Cruz to San Diego – will see increases, probably to the highest levels in history.

Entrance fees now range from $4 to $14 per vehicle, depending on the park. Camping fees range from $10 to $44 a night.

Parks that have the highest attendance will see fees jump the most, Stearns said. That means places like Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek, with more than 1 million visitors a year, could see fees increase from the current $7 per car to $10 or more.

And the most popular campsites, such as Seacliff State Beach in Aptos, where recreational vehicles can park literally adjacent to the sand, could go from $44 a night to as high as $65 a night.

People who already have reservations won't have to pay the fee increases.

The fee hikes will raise about $1.5 million a year. That means parks leaders still will have to close at least one-third of California's state parks in the coming weeks, Stearns said.

"This helps to maybe keep a few open," he said. Those parks will be announced after Labor Day. Parks with the lowest attendance are most likely to close. Stearns said that the department is scrambling to find partnerships with cities, counties, corporations and nonprofit groups to help keep as many parks as possible open.

Last month, for example, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors announced it will study whether it can afford to use county park rangers to keep open the 90,000-acre Henry Coe State Park near Morgan Hill, which otherwise would be expected to close due to its low visitation.

California has never closed state parks, even during the Depression.

But this year, as part of the budget that the Legislature approved in July to close California's record $24 billion deficit, state parks took an $8 million reduction. Schwarzenegger then cut an additional $6.2 million through line-item vetoes. After lost revenues from park closures are factored in, the total hit to the department will be about $39 million, Coleman estimated, on a $387 million operating budget.

Some lawmakers who voted against parks funding last month are now balking at parks in their districts possibly closing.

Contending it was a tax, Republicans in the Legislature killed a plan supported by environmental groups and Democrats to impose a $15 surcharge on vehicle registrations that would have doubled the state park budget while giving every California resident free admission to all state parks.

But last week, state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno, sent Coleman a letter saying he had "deep concerns" about the potential closures of parks in his district, such as Turlock Lake, and urging her to "weigh the devastating economic consequences."

Too late, say environmentalists.

"It's too bad that Sen. Cogdill didn't take this into account before we got to this stage," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.

Goldstein said her organization is studying whether it can raise the money to put the $15 annual fee up for a vote on the November 2010 state ballot.

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