With Discover Pass sales falling far short of projections this summer, Washington state’s Parks and Recreation Commission will decide this week whether to ask lawmakers for more money from the general fund than planned.
The Wenatchee World reported that Discover Pass revenues were about $4.7 million short of expectations for the months of June through September, said parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter. That means instead of asking for $18 million from the general fund for the 2013-2015 biennium, the commission will consider asking for $27.2 million, she said.
Two years ago, the legislature directed state parks to wean itself off of state funding, and try to survive on its own revenues from camping fees, boat launch passes and the newly created Discover Pass. In response, the agency reduced 66 park rangers to seasonal employees, and eliminated dozens of positions.
The $30 annual pass has now been required to park in a state park or on other state land for a year and a half, and the agency predicted sales would pick up this summer, Painter said.
“We expected a big surge in the summer, which happened the first year. But it leveled off this year,” she said.
The problem was in forecasting how much money the new pass would raise. “It’s all trying to establish trends based on something we haven’t done before,” she said.
Painter said there are so many factors that come into play that make it hard to predict how well sales will go. But, she said, in the long term, the agency hopes lawmakers will recognize that some of its funding should come from general funds, even if the majority of its revenue does not.
“We’re not going back to a big reliance on the general fund,” Painter said. “But we do think it is right to have all citizens paying something for this system that benefits the whole state.”
She said an August report by the agency found that no states have a park system that relies solely on revenues from user fees, although most do ask people to pay something to use them.
Despite the public’s resistance to buy the new pass, she said, the agency believes eventually, people will change their minds.
“For the first two or three years, some people are going to say, ‘I’m not paying that.’ But eventually, if they love their parks, some people are going to figure out what they are missing,” she said.
The state of Washington generated $2.9 million for state parks and other public recreation lands during the initial six weeks of Discover Pass sales, state agency chiefs announced Wednesday (Aug. 24).
Officials started requiring the $30 annual pass or $10 day-use pass to park vehicles at recreation lands statewide July 1. The state started selling the passes in June, the Issaquah Press reported.
Don Hoch, Washington State Parks director, said the revenue is crucial to state parks, because the agency must rely on user fees and donations to cover costs. In recent years, the Legislature slashed funding for agencies managing outdoor recreation lands and facilities.
“Public support has been essential as we begin this new program aimed at preserving public access to recreation lands,” he said in a statement. “It’s heartening that Washington citizens are willing to help keep their recreation lands open and operating. And we are optimistic that sales will continue to grow to help fund our state recreation lands.”
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Natural Resources also receive a percentage of Discover Pass revenue.
The pass is required for state parks, as well as lands managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources. Users must display the annual or day-use Discover Pass in vehicles’ front windshields or face a $99 fine.
Summer days spent lounging lakeside at Lake Sammamish State Park or hiking in Tiger Mountain State Forest start to cost most users a fee soon, according to a report in the Issaquah Press.
The cash-strapped state is preparing to debut the Discover Pass on July 1, just as the Fourth of July weekend causes attendance to swell at state parks and recreation lands. The permit is required to park vehicles at state recreation sites and other public lands.
The base price for the annual pass is $30, although consumers should expect to shell out another $5 in fees. The day-use pass — base price: $10 — carries $1.50 in additional fees.
State officials maintain the pass is necessary to avoid closing state parks and other sites to public access, but outdoors enthusiasts said the requirement serves a barrier to parkgoers, and could cause attendance to drop.
The pass is needed for parking access to 7 million acres of state recreation lands under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and state Department of Fish and Wildlife. State recreation lands include state parks, boat launches, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, campgrounds, trails and trailheads.
Users must display the annual or day-use Discover Pass in vehicles’ front windshields or face a $99 fine. Officials plan to emphasize public education and compliance during the upcoming holiday weekend.
The state is offering the Discover Pass online and at recreational license dealers across the Evergreen State. Still, rangers at Lake Sammamish State Park fielded dozens of phone calls in recent months about the pass. Selling the permit is also causing logistics hassles for park rangers.
Lake Sammamish State Park Ranger Tor Bjorklund said rangers hope to sell the passes at a booth near the park entrance, but because the staff is stretched thin and the booth needs repairs, parkgoers might need to trek off the beaten path to the office to purchase a Discover Pass.
The pass is meant to generate funding to offset deep cuts to land-management agencies and state parks. Officials need to raise about $60 million per year to compensate for the cuts.
“We are optimistic that people will support state parks and recreation lands and buy the Discover Pass,” State Parks Director Don Hoch said in a statement. “Without the pass to support state parks, we would have been closing park gates all over the state.”
“The Discover Pass will help ensure that the beautiful recreation lands of Washington state remain open for all to enjoy,” state Commissioner of Public Land Peter Goldmark said in a statement. “For less than the cost to take the family out to the movies, we can keep popular places such as Mount Si, Capitol State Forest and Ahtanum State Forest open.”
Revenue from pass sales is to be divided among the state land-management agencies: 84% to state parks, 8% to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and 8% to the Department of Natural Resources.
State lawmakers approved the Discover Pass in late April. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the legislation into law last month.