Governor signs bills instituting state park fees; will Fort Worden have exemptions?
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Cars enter Fort Worden State Park and Conference Center to access college classes, Centrum or other businesses and nonprofits on park grounds. Will those drivers have to buy $30 passes? -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — Visitors to state parks such as Fort Worden and Fort Flagler near Port Townsend, Bogachiel near Forks and Sequim Bay — as well as recreational lands owned by state agencies — will be charged a $30 annual fee, or pay $10 per visit, beginning July 1.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said the legislation she signed Thursday will help keep state lands open to the public in the face of a budget shortfall projected to be $5 billion.

Visitors can purchase a $30 annual vehicle pass, called a Discover Pass, or a $10 single-day pass to state parks and state Department of Natural Resources and state Fish & Wildlife recreation areas.

The fine for not displaying the pass in the front windshield is $99.

Details are still being worked out as to what exemptions will apply, especially for parks such as Fort Worden that contain businesses or serve as community gathering spots.

For instance, campers who have paid fees for overnight stays are exempted from purchasing the pass, said Virginia Painter, public affairs director for State Parks.

But what about visitors to businesses or Peninsula College classrooms within Fort Worden State Park?

What about those who want to enter the park to see exhibits at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center or attend Centrum’s music festivals in and around McCurdy Pavilion?

“Even though the bill has been signed by the governor, we still have a lot of details that need to be worked out,” said Kate Burke, Ford Worden park manager.

“We don’t know if all will have to pay,” she said.

“But there definitely will be areas that they will have to have a pass.”

Burke said she is waiting to have questions answered about lease-holders and businesses, among other topics.

“We’re waiting to hear the parameters of what we have to work with,” she said.

Said Painter: “On the Fort Worden question, yes, we have things we need to work out.

“On the one hand, we need to make sure that we [have the revenue to] run a park system.

“On the other hand, we need to look at places where we need to make some arrangements.”

Details must be approved by all three state agencies, Painter said.

“It’s quite complicated,” she said.

The program is expected to bring in more than $64 million every two years.

Most of the initial proceeds — 84 percent — will go into a special state parks fund.

The remaining 16 percent will be divided evenly between the state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Fish & Wildlife.

“It is essential that we keep our recreation areas open to the public,” Gregoire said in a statement.

Opponents of the program argued that it would be hard on low-income families.

Passes will be required for access to 120 state parks and millions of acres managed by the state.

That includes boat launches, campgrounds, heritage sites, wildlife areas and trails.

Starting in mid-June, visitors can begin purchasing passes online or in retail outlets that also sell hunting and fishing licenses.

Those who already hold certain types of fishing and hunting licenses — along with people camping in state parks — are exempt from the pass requirements.

Once available, the Discover Pass can be purchased at one of nearly 600 sporting goods or other retail stores that sell hunting and fishing licenses.

It also will be available for purchase online or by phoning toll free 866-320-9933.

Beginning next fall, the public will be able to purchase a pass when renewing a vehicle license through the state Department of Licensing.

“In the end, we have to encourage people to purchase the pass because that will keep the parks open and the recreational lands open and operating,” Burke said.

“It really is what is going to keep access to all of our parklands available to everybody.

It’s a different climate,” she added. “We don’t have the general fund supporting us anymore.”

For more information about the Discover Pass, visit www.discoverpass.wa.gov.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Last modified: May 13. 2011 12:17AM
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